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Volume 63 / Social Sciences


MARA LOVEMAN, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison
JERONIMO O. MUNIZ, PhD Candidate in Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison
ANA CRISTINA COLLARES, PhD Candidate in Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

SOCIOLOGY IS THRIVING IN BRAZIL, as measured by both the sheer volume of published research and the quality of studies reviewed. Disciplinary boundaries are far from rigid in Brazilian social sciences. This state of affairs facilitates a regular give-and-take between sociologists and colleagues in related fields, especially anthropology, history, and public policy. A healthy dose of interdisciplinary influence contributes to Brazil's rich sociological tradition, marked by a diversity of themes and methods (item #bi2007001801#).

Entering the 21st century, Brazilian society remains one of the most unequal in the world and sociologists continue to play a critical role documenting the severity of Brazil's social problems. Focused on exploring the causes and consequences of poverty, violence, hunger, racial inequality, patriarchy, exploitation of children, rural impoverishment, environmental degradation, and inadequacies of housing, health and education, among other social ills, it is no wonder that the field of sociology in Brazil has garnered a reputation for pessimism (see HLAS 61:643). Yet, in the current crop of sociological scholarship there is also a notable, if tempered, undercurrent of optimism. Or perhaps better put, there is a tone of determination to make use of the production of knowledge to effect positive social change. This stance is evident in the heavy emphasis given to policy evaluation and concrete proposals for political and social reform in many recent works. It is also evident in the growing number of studies that highlight successful examples of social programs that aim to expand and deepen the exercise of cidadania (citizenship) by all Brazilians.

In 2006, Worker's Party (PT) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was re-elected to the country's presidency in a landslide victory. The "PT-style of government" (item #bi2006002518#) has created more space (relatively speaking) for experimenting with progressive social policies and programs (item #bi2006002685#). Sociologists have drawn attention to innovative policies at various levels of government, analyzing the conditions that made reform possible and evaluating gains and limitations of specific social programs. Porto Alegre's participatory budgeting process, in particular, is the focus of numerous recent studies (e.g., items #bi2005001130#, #bi2007005006#, and #bi2006002706#). The program is internationally recognized as a model of local-level participatory democracy.

Violence and poverty stand out as dominant concerns of recent sociological scholarship. Rates of violent crime in Brazil have reached alarming proportions, with risk of violent death in some parts of Brazil's major cities outpacing the risk in active war zones. In these conditions, criminology is a booming area of research, with empirical studies mapping homicide rates to urban geographies (item #bi2006002653#), and reporting sociodemographic predictors of homicide (item #bi2005001111#), among other concerns. Some authors tackle the issue of public security from a more institutionalist perspective, seeing rising violence as a symptom of an ailing state. From this perspective, measures to effectively combat corruption and impunity, and to create channels for meaningful democratic participation at the grassroots, are seen as crucial antidotes to escalating violence in Brazilian cities (item #bi2006002701#). Case studies of programs that reduced violence and increased public safety include a comparative study of New York and Diadema (item #bi2006002673#) and a study of programs focused specifically on the reduction of violence against women (item #bi2006002464#). Most work on violence in Brazil focuses on urban areas. Violence in rural Brazil is a relatively neglected issue by comparison, though there are a handful of noteworthy exceptions, including an insightful ethnographic study of the culture of violence and family honor in the northeastern state of Pernambuco (item #bi2005001099#), and an exploration of the culture of "hit men" in Piauí, Maranhão and Ceará (item #bi2005001118#).

The study of poverty and socioeconomic inequality also remains a top priority of sociological research in Brazil. Some of Brazil's leading social scientists have turned their attention to the underlying causes of endemic poverty in this country. Recent contributions illuminate the relevance of theoretical models and explanatory accounts of social stratification and social exclusion developed with reference to advanced capitalist countries for understanding the Brazilian experience. Two books by Simon Schwartzman (items #bi2006002546# and #bi2007005007#), in particular, are indispensable contributions to discussions of poverty in Brazil, as are Sonia Rocha's Pobreza no Brasil (item #bi2006002662#), and Marcelo Medeiros' provocatively titled, O que faz os Ricos ricos? [What makes the Rich rich?] (item #bi2007001802#). A contribution by Pochmann and Amorim (item #bi2006002651#) uses methods of spatial data analysis to map the distribution of poverty across Brazil by municipality. An edited volume by Hasenbalg and Silva provides rigorous empirical studies of social stratification and mobility (item #bi2007005008#). Bernardo Sorj examines the ramifications of unequal access to information technology in Brazil (item #bi2006002489#). These works significantly advance understanding of poverty in Brazil, while pointing to a range—albeit limited—of possible routes to its amelioration. Complementing these synoptic contributions is a growing number of ethnographic studies that explore the lived experience of socioeconomic marginalization in contemporary Brazil. Based largely on interviews, focus-groups, and evaluations of targeted social programs, these studies probe the subjective meaning of poverty for those who endure it (items #bi2006002688# and #bi2006002661#).

Social and economic exclusion are frequently discussed in both social scientific literature and the popular media using the rubric of cidadania (citizenship). Cidadania has become an umbrella concept for scholars working on a broad array of substantive issues: from exploitation of child labor, to the rights of homosexuals, to violence in urban shantytowns, to racial stereotypes in popular media. Though the broad use of the concept of cidadania may be useful politically to denote the common social exclusion suffered by various segments of the Brazilian population, some social scientists suggest the analytical leverage of the concept of cidadania may end up diluted from its increasingly broad and all-encompassing use (items #bi2006002695# and #bi2006002538#). On the other hand, future work might focus more attention on general sociological mechanisms that promote or inhibit the full-exercise of citizenship. Empirical studies of social networks, for example, could illuminate how much and in what ways interpersonal connections actually structure individual life chances in Brazil.

Of various forms of social exclusion in Brazil, racial exclusion continues to be a central focus of sociological research. High profile public debate over affirmative action in Brazilian universities and government has heightened social scientific attention to racial dynamics. Sociological findings about racial disparities, in turn, have helped fuel the ongoing debate. Sociologists, alongside colleagues from other disciplines, have been vocal participants in public debates over "race quotas." Numerous MA and PhD students have written theses on aspects of affirmative action in Brazil, turning out a first wave of articles and books on the subject. Black movement activists and many social scientists laud affirmative action as a long overdue state intervention to combat racism and racial inequality in Brazil (e.g., item #bi2006002675#). Others see the quota system as little more than a symbolic gesture, and one that is distracting attention from the need for more fundamental reform of public education in Brazil, from elementary through university levels (item #bi2007005009#).

Amidst these debates, studies of racial inequality (item #bi2004003101#), racial attitudes (items #bi2007002236# and #bi2007002237#), and racial classification (item #bi2007002238#) are increasingly common. A growing number of research groups and NGOs now issue regular report- card style studies of racial discrimination in distinct realms of social life. Brazil's racial dynamics are also getting a lot more attention within US sociology of race, which itself has been gradually adopting a more comparative orientation. Important recent contributions in English such as Edward Telles' Race in Another America (item #bi2007002097#), and Livio Sansone's Blackness without Ethnicity (item #bi2005000047#) have bolstered this trend.

The sociology of education is a very active area of research in Brazil. The debates over affirmative action have resonated strongly in this subfield, where studies of racial disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes are on the rise (items #bi2006002670# and #bi2006002545#). Systematic and reliable data on Brazil's educational system are now available (including SAEB Sistema Nacional de Avaliação da Educação Básica; the ENEM Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio; and the ENADE Exame Nacional de Desempenho de Estudantes or National Examination of Student Achievement for higher education). A small but growing number of sociologists are making use of these nationally representative surveys to examine predictors of student achievement in Brazil (item #bi2007000598#). A key reference on contemporary sociology of education in Brazil is The Challenges of Education in Brazil, edited by Colin Brock and Simon Schwartzman (item #bi2007001804#). For an overview of the current situation of higher education in Brazil, see item #bi2007000597#. Recent scholarship in this area also illuminates the negative effects of violence on education (item #bi2006002692#).

The theme of exclusion from full citizenship is also central to recent work in the sociology of labor. The consequences of neoliberal economic reform and the restructuring of industrial production on the lives of workers continue to be a focus of scholarship in this area (items #bi2006002494#, #bi2006002483#, and #bi2006002510#). A number of recent studies bring the gendered nature of work in Brazil into clear focus, through studies of female assembly-line workers (items #bi2006002526# and #bi2005001101#) and women migrants to urban areas (item #bi2006002663#). There is also a growing concern about child labor and its long-term consequences for children and their families (items #bi2006002706# and #bi2006002740#). Relatively less attention has been devoted to informal labor (item #bi2006002529#), agricultural and rural work (item #bi2006002745#), and issues surrounding migrant workers and their families.

The sociology of gender remains an important subfield in Brazilian sociology, focused on various dimensions and sources of gender inequality. The intersection of gender and labor market dynamics is an especially active area of research. Most work in this area explores the experiences of working class women; future studies might fruitfully examine gender dynamics amongst white-collar workers and in the professions. Recent studies have also focused attention on the gendered assumptions and implications of specific social policies at different levels of government (items #bi2003006889# and #bi2005001114#).

Environmental sociology in Brazil has been growing rapidly as a subfield, responding to the heightened international concerns about global climate change, environmental degradation and sustainability. Brazil participated in the Global Environmental Survey (GOES), a cross-national study that examined how publics and decision makers in developed and developing countries frame environmental problems and solutions. The main findings of the survey were published in item #bi2007001805#. Other topics that continue to receive attention include agricultural policy and agrarian reform, sustainable development strategies in the Amazon region, and studies of rural livelihoods (items #bi2005001102#, #bi2006002674#, #bi2006002745#, and #bi2006002725#). The public policy orientation of scholarship in this area is clearly evident.

Demography and family studies in Brazil also aim to contribute to public policy decisions. Most demographic studies are produced by scholars affiliated with one of three centers: the Centro de Desenvolvimento e Planejamento Regional or Center for Development and Regional Planning (CEDEPLAR), at the Federal Universidade de Minas Gerais, the Núcleo de Estudos Populacionais (NEPO), at the Universidade of Campinas, and the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada or Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília. The paucity of reliable longitudinal data is a serious constraint to scholars working in this area. Panel surveys are expensive and funding is vulnerable to shifts in political winds. As a result, a broad range of important questions about the relationship of life cycle events to future outcomes in Brazil have yet to be explored. Notwithstanding this limitation, recent contributions in this subfield include a fertility study that describes period- and cohort- fertility trends since the 1920s (item #bi2005004418#), a study of factors associated with fertility decline (item #bi2003006723#), and studies of internal migration (item #bi2003006469#) and the "brain drain" of Brazilian scientists moving abroad (item #bi2005003109#). In the subfield of family sociology, recent work has emphasized the importance of family arrangements and gender relations to the provision of public policies (item #bi2003006889#), financial exchange between generations (item #bi2003005745#) and the importance of family events in women's participation in the labor force (item #bi2005004417#).

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