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Volume 51 / Social Sciences


WILLIAM C. SMITH, Associate Professor of Political Science, Graduate School of International Studies, University of Miami

THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THE CURRENT DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION and the specter of authoritarian involution are themes pervading much scholarship on contemporary Brazilian politics. The initial optimism academics and others expressed with the return to democracy has long since dissipated, but the quality of social science production continues to meet the high standards set when intellectuals were in the forefront of the opposition to authoritarianism.

The quality of theoretical work and empirical research is exemplified in several recent assessments of the democratic transition. Perhaps the single most important contribution to the study of the transition from authoritarianism is Stepan's edited volume (item bi 91003457), which offers a comprehensive discussion of economic policy, political parties, labor unions, new social movements, and the armed forces. Other good edited works dealing with topics related to democratization include: Wanderley Reis and O'Donnell (item bi 91003458); Wirth, Nunes, and Bogenschild (item bi 91003459); and Chacel, Falk, and Fleischer (item bi 91001104). Diniz, Boschi, and Lessa (item bi 90004093), Werneck Vianna (item bi 91003460) O'Donnell (item bi 91003461), Hagopian and Mainwaring (item bi 91003462), Torres (item bi 91003463), and Smith (item bi 91003466) also offer useful interpretations of regime transition and the dilemmas of democratic consolidation. On a more theoretical plane, three small, densely argued books (items bi 91003465, bi 91003468, and bi 91001132) by Dos Santos examine the causes of the "decadence" of liberal politico-economic systems, compare presidential and parliamentary regimes, and defend the thesis that decision-making paralysis and weak parliamentary coalitions, rather than macro-structural conflicts, were the most significant causes of the 1964 coup. Human rights violations and State repression under the military are thoroughly and passionately presented in the English translation of Brasil: nunca mais (item bi 91001101) and a companion volume (item bi 89002090). Torture and police abuse in the more recent period are analyzed in Pinheiro and Braun (item bi 91001139) and Americas Watch (item bi 91001105).

The military's continuing preeminent role in Brazil's fragile democracy has focused new attention on the armed forces. Skidmore's lively and reliable narrative history (item bi 89002414) will probably become the standard reference work for the 1964-1985 period of military rule. Stepan's provocative and path-breaking analysis (item bi 91001496) of the military's role in the transition, focusing on the interaction between political contestation and the armed forces' institutional prerogatives, will certainly have a major impact on future research in Brazil and elsewhere in the region. Studies conducted by researchers affiliated with the Núcleo de Estudos Estratégicos at the Univ. of Campinas (UNICAMP) offer insights into the military's continued tutelary role under the post-1985 civilian regime (items bi 91001435, bi 89002416, and bi 91001342). In parallel fashion, Hilton (item bi 91001140) and Mattos (item bi 89002445) call attention to potentially significant shifts in strategic doctrine, specifically a reorientation away from management of domestic politics toward greater concern with the military's "external mission."

The return to competitive politics has caused sustained interest to be paid to political parties and electoral behavior. Kinzo's study of the MDB (item bi 88003160) and Dulci's work (item bi 91001136) on the UDN's "anti-populism" are perhaps the most outstanding recent examples of scholarship on parties. The essays in Peixoto's edited volume (item bi 91001423) offer useful analyses of the role of parties and political representation in the early years of the Sarney government. Studies by Lamounier on the 1985 mayoral race in São Paulo (item bi 91001280) and Lima Júnior on the electoral bases of the PDS and the PMDB and the possible emergence of a viable multi-party system (item bi 91001282) demonstrate considerable theoretical and methodological sophistication. Also valuable are Reis' and Graça Rua's regional studies of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo (item bi 91001436), Lavareda and Sá's edited volume on Pernambuco (item bi 91001428), the volume edited by Baquero on Rio Grande do Sul (item bi 91001080), and Andrade's study of the 1982 elections in the state of Paraíba (item bi 91001084). An essential source is Rodrigues' extensive compilation of data (item bi 91001485) on the 487 federal deputies and 72 federal senators who served as delegates to the Constituent Assembly that approved Brazil's new constitution in Oct. 1988. Mainwaring's excellent essay (item bi 91001323) on parties and democratization compares the Brazilian case with Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.

The working class continues to be the object of considerable research. Cohen's empirical study (item bi 89002624) of the mechanisms by which State elites indoctrinate workers into an authoritarian political culture is particularly provocative. Other recent works on the familiar theme of State-corporatist controls over labor and limitations on the expansion of citizenship include Seffner (item bi 89000003), Costa (item bi 91001108), and Gomes (item bi 91001138). Minella's innovative study of the structure and dynamics of the financial sector (item bi 91001344) and Trevisan's research (item bi 91001502) on the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (FIESP) point to growing scholarly interest in Brazil's powerful entrepreneurial class. Diniz and Lima Júnior's study (item bi 91001129) of entrepreneurs and authoritarian modernization provides an excellent overview of the role of the dominant industrial elites during the military regime.

A good survey of the multiple roles played by the "new social movements" in the transition to democracy can be found in Sader's edited volume (item bi 89002443). On a more conceptual level, Boschi's study of popular movements in Rio de Janeiro (item bi 91001087) stands out for its unusually sophisticated treatment of the link between collective identity and political action. The essays in the volume edited by Pompermayer on Minas Gerais (item bi 91001433) are a welcome corrective to the usual regional focus on Rio and São Paulo. Martins (item bi 91001340) provides a fresh look at the role of the National Student's Union (UNE) and the Catholic youth movement (JUC) in the emergence of a "new left" in the period following the 1964 coup.

Studies in political economy, focusing new attention on the interaction among State elites, organized labor, and capital, have been greatly stimulated by the foreign debt crisis and the dismal failure of the Cruzado Plan's policies of "heterodox shock." Distributional conflicts and the difficulty of articulating social pacts are just some of the questions analyzed from a variety of theoretical and disciplinary vantage points in Singer (item bi 91001491), Smith (item bi 89000461), Sola et al. (item bi 91001500), Pang (item bi 91001421), and Diniz (item bi 91001114). Solnik (item bi 91001501) and Sardenberg (item bi 91001488) are informative journalistic contributions to the study of the politics of macroeconomic policy-making.

The related field of public policy analysis has witnessed a small boom in quality studies in recent years. The best examples of this genre call attention to the logic of administrative agencies of the State apparatus and their ties to private-sector interests under the authoritarian regime. The well-done study of the National Monetary Council (CNN) by Werneck Vianna (item bi 91001499) and the excellent essays in Lima Júnior and Abranches (item bi 89002091) on the National Development Council (CDN) and the Interministerial Price Council (CIP) are especially valuable. Future research should provide a comparative focus on transformations in State structures and administrative practices in the transition to a more competitive political order.

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