The Immensity of Being Singular

Approaching Migrant Lives in São Paulo through Resonance

By Simone Toji 

In this powerful new work, Simone Toji reconsiders ethnography as a form of appreciation of the contradictions inherent in the making of life itself. Recovering Bronislaw Malinowski’s idea of the “imponderabilia of actual life” as an inspiring ethnographic attitude, she shows how lives are composed through moments of indecision, opacity, and incongruity that make them irreducibly open ended. The singular lives of five migrants, from Paraguay, South Korea, China, and Bolivia, are rendered as journeys across the city of São Paulo, interspersed with resonant explorations of the power of life’s invention and reinvention as a part of the human condition.

“Based on her encounters with migrants in São Paulo, Toji narrates the singularities and surprises of their livelihoods and life-journeys. Allowing each object to shape her approach to it, she puts emphasis on the fact that each field encounter summons its own methods, ways of thinking, and forms of writing.”

Maria José de Abreu, author of The Charismatic Gymnasium: Breath, Media and Religious Revivalism in Contemporary Brazil

“Toji provides evocative insights into the lives of migrants in Brazil, through stories aching with humanity, pathos, joy, and the ambiguities that characterize so many people’s lives amidst the uncertainty of the era.”

Loren Landau, co-editor of I Want to Go Home Forever: Stories of Becoming and Belonging in South Africa’s Great Metropolis and of Forging African Communities: Mobility, Integration, and Belonging

“Toji pushes anthropology and migration studies to consider migrancy as experience and representation as aesthetic. This is a book against categorization, which, as many migration scholars have noted but rarely performed in their writing, exercises a certain symbolic violence that often results in physical harm.”

Derek Pardue, author of Ideologies of Marginality in Brazilian Hip Hop and Brazilian Hip Hoppers Speak from the Margins.


Simone Toji is a Newton International Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Institute.

© HAU Books 2023
5″ x 8″, 169 pp.

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Chapter 1. Resonance

Chapter 2. Being Singular

Chapter 3. Life-journeys

Chapter 4. Becomings

Chapter 5. Immensity

And then . . .