‘Culture as a Verb’ and ‘Otherness’: Reflections on Conceptual Threads from Brian Street’s Early Writing

  • Maria Lucia Castanheira Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
  • Juliana Santos Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia de Minas Gerais


This text re-examines the early and ongoing work of Brian Street and highlights the lasting relevance of Street’s analysis of “ethnographic novels” presented in the book The Savage in Literature: Representations of ‘primitive’ society in English fiction 1858-1920. First, it presents an overview of Street’s analysis of representations of ‘primitive society’ in “ethnographic novels”, then, it identifies two conceptual threads – ‘culture as a verb’ and ‘otherness’ –, whose roots can be found in this book, and that Street continued to develop throughout his academic career.  The paper argues that Street’s early work speaks directly to those concerned today with examining power relationships in colonial and post-colonial contexts.

[Content warning: this article contains discussion of historical terms related to scientific racism from 19th and early 20th century literature]