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Volume 65 / Social Sciences


DANIEL HILLIARD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, and Executive Director, Zoo Conservation Outreach Group
MEREDITH DUDLEY, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Tulane University

Sociology and the social sciences continue to play an important role in engaging with Brazil's ongoing social challenges: racism, sexism, extreme economic inequalities, poverty, rapid urbanization, and the degradation of rural environments, among others. Sociological research in Brazil has sought simultaneously to document the historical roots of these problems and to examine their complex interplay with globalization and emergent change. Furthermore, most studies have moved beyond mere documentation of Brazil's social problems and increasingly offer public policy recommendations based on research outcomes. The rich cultural heritage of Brazil also continues to provide fertile ground for the study of different aspects of identity, such as ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, and religion. These various research interests are reflected in the large number of recent social science publications on Brazil, many of which are interdisciplinary in nature. The studies reviewed here represent only a small sample of this much larger body of sociological research.

The inequalities that characterize Brazilian society continue to engage social science scholarship. Documenting the fundamental forces driving socioeconomic disparity in Brazil remains a top research priority, and much of the resulting scholarship is dedicated to advancing a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics of poverty in the country. Recent social science research has focused on the intersection of poverty with violence, drugs, racial inequality, and programs that seek to remove exclusionary barriers.

The relationship between violence and poverty remains a particularly salient concern and a dominant theme in recent sociological scholarship (items 2690, 2700, and 2706). As Brazil struggles with rates of violence comparable to some international conflict regions, criminology has emerged as a growing area of research. Homicides in particular are explored as a major public policy challenge. Most studies have documented a clear link between rates of violence and demographic variables such as poverty and race. In his ambitious treatise on violence in Brazil, Luís Mir (item 2690) argues that violence in contemporary Brazil has clear historical roots and that the primary victims are the same as they always have been: poor, black, and segregated. Mir's study is highly critical of the role of the state, contending that it bears primary responsibility for failing to address the social, economic, and political mechanisms of violence, thereby leaving the country in what he refers to as "a permanent state of civil war for the past 500 years." A collection of ten empirical studies published in 2007 (item 2700) likewise explores the diverse causes of Brazil's increasing homicide rates and highlights the paradox of military participation in public security.

Contemporary studies of violence in Brazil also explore the complex interaction of firearms and drug trafficking in urban areas. A collection of studies by the Organização de Rubem César Fernandes (item 2678) examines the relationship between firearms and violence in contemporary Brazilian society. Several of the chapters focus on the high levels of gun violence in Rio de Janeiro and the impact of the illegal trafficking of firearms within the city's greater metropolitan area. Alba Zaluar's collection of articles (item 2706) similarly examines the relationship between violence, poverty, and drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro. Zaluar purposely moves beyond what he calls "the traditional ethnic and ideological debates that tend to dominate discussions about violence, poverty, and drugs," and instead places emphasis on the intersection of poverty and drug trafficking in relationship to mass consumer society, organized crime, and state actors involved in illicit criminal activities. Studies that explore the underground economies of firearms and drug trafficking offer new and interesting insights into violence and criminality in Brazilian society.

On a related note, the public health impact of violence on Brazilian society is a significant component of recent scholarship. As a medical doctor and historian, Luís Mir offers a public health perspective in his study about the history of homicide and violence in Brazil (item 2690). The collection of essays in Homicídios no Brasil (item 2700) and Brasil: as armas e as vítimas (item 2678) directly explore the link between gun violence, crime, and public health in Brazil, and discuss public policy solutions.

Another emergent aspect within the scholarship on violence in Brazil is a focus on the situated experience of violence. For instance, the collection of empirical studies on homicide, Homicídios no Brasil (item 2700), examines the symbolic components of violence affecting Brazilian youth as well as the perceived disproportionate impact of homicide on the country's black youth. In addition, Soares, Miranda, and Borges (item 2702) offer a multidisciplinary look at the impact of violence on what the authors refer to as the "hidden" victims—the family, friends, and neighbors of individuals targeted by violence. Their study of the broader impact of violence in Rio de Janeiro is intended to provoke public policy debate on how to confront increasing levels of violence in Brazilian society. As in the past, most sociological studies about violence focus on urban areas like Rio de Janeiro, which is well-researched and symptomatic of metropolitan societies.

The sprawling slums or favelas of Rio de Janeiro remain a focus of social science research in Brazil, although sociologists are increasingly utilizing ethnographic and interview methodologies to document the experiences of individuals (items 2702 and 2683). A favela fala (item 2683) is a collection of testimonies provided by community leaders in four Rio de Janeiro favelas. By depicting the diverse socioeconomic and political realities of each community, the volume challenges some of the preconceived notions about favelas that helped create the city's segmented and separated civil society.

Contemporary racial and gender inequalities continue to engage many Brazilian sociologists. Most studies about race relations document the ongoing correlation between race, social exclusion, and poverty in Brazil (items 2677, 2679, 2681, 2686, 2692, 2694, 2695, and 2698). The article by Souza (item 2704) begins with a review of the empirical and theoretical dimensions of racial discrimination and inequality in Brazil. The author critiques studies that correlate race with negative social indices like poverty, but which fail to clarify the role of race in the production of inequality. Souza suggests that the debate over inequality in Brazil should return to the question of social class, which has been relegated to a secondary theme of analysis as a "residual of the Marxist dialectic." While not denying the importance of race and racism in Brazil, Souza argues that race must be properly understood in the "hierarchy of causes" in order to combat both class-based and race-based prejudice.

Other sociologists are paying greater attention to the role of economic class after several decades of focusing largely on other aspects of identity, such as race or gender. Instead, a prevalent thread of contemporary social science scholarship in Brazil is examining the intersection of class with race or gender-based inequalities (items 2695, 2698, and 2704). In his analysis of the relationship between schooling, social mobility, and race in Brazil, Ribeiro (item 2695) concludes that opportunities for lower-class individuals are significantly marked by race, and that racial inequality likewise influences the odds of social mobility for persons of upper class origins. Ribeiro suggests that theories of stratification in Brazil be rethought, taking into account the observed interactions between race and class. Santos' (item 2698) study of the interaction between class and race-based inequalities in income provides another example of this trend. Santos utilizes linear regression analysis to examine the "moderating effect" of class on racial inequalities in income, and concludes that whites are favored in nearly all class categories, but that the racial effect is moderated significantly by class condition.

Several scholars have examined the impact of inequality in the workplace as a means of exploring the linkages between race, gender, and economic class in Brazil (items 2677, 2679, 2686, and 2694). For example, Cacciamali and Hirata (item 2679) analyze the labor markets in Bahia and São Paulo to test hypotheses of racial and gender discrimination, and find that significant discrimination exists against both blacks and women in the Brazilian labor market. Guimarães (item 2686) likewise analyzes salary patterns by race and gender and finds unequal salaries that reflect ongoing inequality, discrimination, and intolerance in the modern Brazilian workplace. In his study of discrepancies in personal income, Quadros (item 2694) concludes that these distortions of income result primarily from unequal access to better-remunerated positions based on race and gender. Brandão's study (item 2677) goes beyond basic correlations between poverty and racial inequality in Brazil to consider the effects of globalization on the job market in Rio de Janeiro. He discusses whether changes in employment patterns due to globalization have contributed to the development of a new and distinctly Brazilian form of poverty that continues to be grounded in racial discrimination.

Another trend in sociological studies on Brazil is the analysis of social exclusion and economic mobility barriers. The collection of articles published by the IPEA (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada) examines these impacts and concludes that race, gender, age, and place of residence function to make some groups of people more vulnerable to social exclusion (item 2681). The authors suggest that social inclusion programs may help groups overcome exclusionary barriers that prevent them from emerging from poverty. Other publications examine evidence of the success or shortcomings of existing social inclusion programs. For instance, Políticas de inclusão social presents and analyzes four years of data on the integrated social and political inclusion programs implemented in the greater São Paulo metropolitan area (item 2692). Preliminary evaluations demonstrate job generation and reductions in violence and school truancy, even in the most marginalized areas of the city. Rocha analyzes results of the 2004 Brazilian National Household Survey to document spatially differentiated reductions in poverty linked to Brazil's Plano Real (item 2696). She concludes that the reductions were most favorable in rural areas and less effective in the São Paulo metropolitan area.

Sociologists continue to document and analyze social movements in Brazil, and the sociology of gender and sexuality remains a dynamic area of research. Much of this research remains focused on the various dimensions and sources of gender inequality, including the intersection of gender and labor market dynamics, identity formation, and gay and lesbian identity politics. The volume A mulher brasileira provides a synthesis of the 2001 national survey of Brazilian woman and presents a series of essays that address the diverse political and socioeconomic realities in which contemporary women live (item 2691). Facchini combines historical research and participant observation to explore the emergence, organization, and internal dynamics of Brazil's homosexual movement at the end of the 20th century (item 2682). This study contributes to the literature on identity formation as well as social movement organization in Brazil.

Finally, religion remains a salient theme in sociological studies of contemporary Brazil. Much of this research focuses on the adaptation of religion and religious practices to globalization and contemporary social transformations in Brazil. Bittencourt Filho introduces the concept of the "Brazilian Religious Matrix" as a way of interpreting the historical relationship between the development of Brazilian society and diverse religious practices from Europe, Africa, and Native America (item 2676). His book explores the rise of Protestant Pentacostalism as a recent challenge to the Brazilian Religious Matrix, and argues that globalization and attendant social transformations have lead to increased competition for religious hegemony in Brazil. The volume Sociologia da religião e mudança social brings together a number of specialists in the sociology of religion to examine the complex relations between religious phenomena, modernity, and social change in contemporary Brazil (item 2703). The authors examine the ways in which both Catholicism and Protestantism have developed strategies to maintain their relevance. Prandi (item 2693) explores the manner in which Afro-Brazilian religions likewise are adapting to changes in society in order to maintain their relevance in an expanding and increasingly competitive religious market in Brazil.

The studies reviewed, along with the larger body of literature on the sociology of Brazil, continue to advance our understanding of the nuances of Brazil's complex and changing society. Future research should continue to explore the articulation of race, gender, and class, as well as the ways in which they mediate the situated experience of globalization in Brazil.

HLAS Humanities Editor Katherine D. McCann contributed to this section.

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