Conflicting Bodies of Evidence
Peritos, Public Heath, and Energy Workers’ Environments, 1934-1964
This project places the bodies of energy sector workers at the center of analysis through a critique of perícias médicas, or medical examinations following work accidents and an exploration of workers’ views on the role environment places in their workday. Industrial hygienists often portrayed the work locales as an industrial factory rather than a “workscape” intertwined with the natural environment and workers’ bodies, meanwhile workers pointed to the natural world as a cause without admissible evidence or a precise causal nexus. Both hold truths about perceptions and realities on environmental effect on Brazilian labor history. Control over these narratives had mater consequences. As a general objective, my project will explore the interplay between the environment, the workplace, and workers’ bodies’ in energy production as this dynamic affects impairments and illness through work ‘accidents’ and how understandings or ignorance of this relationship influenced common law and social providence for Brazilian workers in mid-twentieth century. My preliminary research on João Silva da Oliveira’s individual and collective cases reveals how emphasis on pathological issues, or health issues related to disease, over physical injuries caused by arduous work in volatile workscapes allowed the court to rationalize work accidents as specific occurrences separated from the environment. João appears to have suffered most from physical injuries, but won his cases because he had Silicosis-Anthracose. The court admitted his Black Lung was minor, but could not ignore his physical injuries. His diagnosis did not match his condition due to the bureaucrat’s view of the environment in workplaces. Divisions between nature admissible as evidence vs. nature that is ignored or industrialized helped maintain state power over a larger work accident narrative overall. A pathological focus, a focus on disease, appears to have allowed the legal system to ignore widespread physical degradation involved in mine labor in law, but perhaps left a contradiction in the larger Brazilian society.