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Nísia Trindade Lima and Tamara Rangel Vieira

In Brazilian social thought, the sertão is understood more in a symbolic than a geographic manner and thus does not have a precise spatial characterization. As a result, many places have been identified as such in the history of Brazil. Analyzing the vast repertoire of meanings given to the idea of sertão, the absence of the state can be seen as a characteristic that distinguishes it, irrespective of the period considered. In this sense, the relations between space and social thought or between space and interpretations of Brazil are emphasized, highlighting the sertão–coast dualism which emerged following the publication of Euclides da Cunha’s Os Sertões as one of the possible ways of understanding the historical formation of the country. This dualism can be observed in distinct periods ranging from the literature about the scientific missions in the early 1900s to the debates about the construction of Brasília in the middle of the same century. Representations of the sertão in medical writings, sociological thought, literature, and film evince the resilience of this category as an ongoing metaphor for understanding Brazil.