Interview with Letícia Souto Pantoja

Explain how abuses against poor children were accepted
and practiced by societies with a discourse of progress,
civilization and modernity


Letícia Souto Pantoja developed at the CECS, from October to November 2017, under the guidance of Isabel dos Guimarães Sá, a part of her postdoctoral program entitled “Protection of the world of work: history(s) of childhood(s) between Brazil and Portugal (1900-1940)”. She is an Adjunct Professor at the Federal University of Southern and Southeastern Pará-Unifesspa-Brazil (PhD in History). With this investigation, she wants to explain how abuses against poor childhood were accepted and practiced by societies which have a discourse of progress, civilization and modernity. In this sense, she assumes that against the ‘scientific neutrality’ myth, she intends to “give voice to historical subjects who  have been deprecated for decades by the traditional historiography of both countries surveyed”.

Q – The theme of the post-doc that you intend to develop in the framework of the CECS is entitled “From the protection of the discipline, from protection to the world of work: history(s) of the poor childhood(s) between Brazil and Portugal (1900-1940) “. Summarize your research… What does it consist of? Why is the temporal beacon betwin 1900-1940?

A – In this new project, I intend to understand how children and youths, among the expressive segment of urban poor workers in the cities of Belém (Pará) and Braga (Portugal), intertwined practices of appropriation and use of urban spaces, from which they forged their social identities in the context of cities undergoing expressive processes of metropolization, while living with fasts of previous economic cycles and crisis in important sectors of the local economies.

With a background in the investigation of judicial and police documentation, in archives in both countries, I study the forms of insertion of children classified as ‘minors’ in the sphere of formal/informal work and, in parallel, the care practices developed by the local authorities in relation to children and youth, orphans and/or the underprivileged.

Thus, I start from the understanding that in the Amazon (Belém) and in Portugal (Braga) contradictory urban societies and spaces were created in which the daily use of modernity artifacts in cities coexisted with poverty, unemployment, the legal-police effects of poverty, and the extension of urban territorial boundaries, based on the spread of crime and unhealthiness, and on the most diverse forms of child rape.

Such historical conditions have impacted not only the ‘world of adults’, but have directly and superciliously affected the conditions of life and ways of experiencing the infancy of children and youths from the impoverished strata.

The choice to investigate the first half of the twentieth century was due to the significant transformations experienced by the two countries, with particular emphasis on the overthrow of the monarchist regimes and the installation of the republican system in both nations, which led to changes in the legislative legal framework in the modes of attention to poor and working children.

Add to this the occurrence of the two world wars and the economic crises that followed the conflicts, which expanded the way children are inserted into the world of work.

Q – The research results obtained until now are in agreement with your expectations?

A – I’m very excited and happy with the beggining of the research. I am in the first phase of the investigation however, the results have shown to be relevant and promising. First of all, I would like to highlight the discovery of new documental funds in both Brazil and Portugal, which have not yet been investigated, with a wealth of judicial documentation related to the Juvenile Courts in the District of Braga and in Pará, which indicate aspects of the world of child labour that cross borders and bring these societies closer together.

In parallel, it is possible to glimpse aspects of the daily life of Brazilian and Portuguese children that indicate strategies of survival in the face of hunger, physical abuse and exploitation of work.

Q – Why did you decide to develop your work at CECS under the guidance of Professor Isabel dos Guimarães Sá?

A – CECS offers the academic and institutional framework that I have been seeking for some time to develop my studies more comprehensively. The intesdiciplinar character of the Center for Studies, the quality of the corpus of teachers, the content of the projects currently developed and the possibility of establishing contact with researchers of different nationalities and research trajectories were decisive aspects for my choosing to develop the post doc in the CECS -UMinho.

The Professor Isabel dos Guimarães e Sá is a historiographical reference recognized in Brazil and in other countries in relation to the studies on exposed and helpless childhood in Portugal. Her researches and texts produced show profound sensitivity in the discussions about childhood, contexts of impoverishment and its unfolding. Add to this, the personal availability of Professor Isabel to engage in challenging projects that allow inter and transdisciplinary approaches, which in this case refer to the dialogue between social history and law through research in judicial sources.

Q – What results do you expect to get at the end of your research?

A – There is a fundamental question that circumscribes the choice of the research topic and on which my research expectations rest. The perception of the abuses against poor children, which have occurred during the last century, make me hope that at the end of the project, I will be able to explain why certain practices of child abuse and juvenile maltreatment (whether through labor exploitation or other forms of physical and/or emotional abuse) were accepted and repeatedly practiced by societies that at the turn of the twentieth century presented a discourse aimed at the defense of progress, civilization and modernity.

In this sense, I can say that “ideologically” and against any myth of “scientific neutrality” give voice to historical subjects who for decades were deprecated by the traditional historiography of both countries surveyed.

Nonetheless, I hope to strengthen the ties of cooperation for new projects that will be developed between the Federal University of South and Southeast of Pará and the University of Minho-CECS, providing the exchange of other researchers, strengthening research groups and building innovative studies in the areas that we focus on in the post-doc project.


Interview conducted by Vítor de Sousa and answered by writing.