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Reconstructing Brazil: Institutional Reform, Economic Liberalism, and Pluralism
Latin American Research Review (2005)
  • Brian Wampler, Boise State University
Over the past twenty years, Brazilians have witnessed and participated in the reform, renewal, and restructuring of their political institutions, economic system, and state-society relationships. The distribution of authority and the allocation of resources have been transformed through the return to democracy in 1985, the drafting of the 1988 Constitution, the decentralization of federal authority to states and municipalities, the entrance of new groups into civil and political society, the ending of hyper-inflation with the 1994 Plano Real, and the liberalization of Brazil's economy. In response, social and political actors have modified their strategies and practices to take advantage of the new institutional settings and political opportunities. The establishment of democracy has helped to foster more pluralistic and competitive political and civil societies.
Yet, as some authors in the books under review note, there has also been considerable stagnation and resistance to reform as various sectors have sought to stifle reform efforts. Basic improvements in the quality of life for most Brazilians have not occurred even though the basic institutional structure of the government has changed, the economy has liberalized, and new groups have been able to participate in formal political society. Violence, poverty, exclusion, and corruption remain constant themes in everyday Brazilian life.
The research topics vary greatly among the books reviewed, from the role of conservative politicians in the New Republic to the formation of middle-class identity in the city of São Paulo, but a recurring theme is how individuals and groups responded to the instability of the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the increasing economic and political stability that developed after the Plano Real was launched in 1994.
This review essay is organized around three themes to demonstrate how the authors of the selected books account for the responses and strategies of the individuals and groups to the changing political environment. The first section focuses on politics at the national level. These works illustrate the continued importance of regional politics, personal loyalty, and maintenance of interest groups that cut across party lines. The second section focuses on the emergence of new actors within civil society but pays particular attention to how civil society organizations now interact with political society and new institutional arrangements. Brazilian local politics experienced a renewal during the 1990s as oppositional political parties were able to win local elections and begin experimenting with new policies and institutional types. The final section turns to ethnographic pieces situated in the city of São Paulo to demonstrate how macro-structural institutional and economic changes have led to micro-level shifts in how individuals and civil society organizations responded to the upheaval of the 1980s and early 1990s.
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Citation Information
Brian Wampler. "Reconstructing Brazil: Institutional Reform, Economic Liberalism, and Pluralism" Latin American Research Review Vol. 40 Iss. 2 (2005)
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