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Volume 61 / Social Sciences


J. TIMMONS ROBERTS, Professor of Sociology and Director of Environmental Science and Policy, The College of William and Mary
JOYCE BAUGHER, Instructor of Modern Languages and Literatures, Loyola College in Maryland

SOCIOLOGY AND THE SOCIAL SCIENCES represent a substantial force within academics in Brazil: a recent estimate had 13,000 students of social sciences in Brazil, with 2,300 graduate students in 54 doctoral and Master's programs (item #bi2001007035#, p. 9). Much of this may be a result of living in a troubled country with profound social problems, but a country that is also critically self-reflective and values secondary education, with strong national, state, and private universities. Brazilian sociology has diverse styles, but its greatest influences have been from France and Europe more broadly, with the US making a substantially smaller impact.

Brazilian sociologists have long taken the role of documenters of the nation's enduring, profound social problems: racism and sexism and their shifting impacts, social exclusion and savage inequality in income, unjust educational and life opportunities, crises affecting the rural poor, environmental damage (rooted in an economy geared to exports at the expense of subsistence), and cities which have become ungovernable due especially to "favelization" (the rapid growth of squatter-settled improvised housing) and violence.

As a result of this role as documenter of social problems, Brazil's sociology has lately been accused of taking a negative approach, becoming essentially an endless litany of negative trends and dire forecasts for the nation. A continuing debate concerns the nature of sociology: whether the field is scientific and "objective," or biased in its repeated mention of "social apartheid" and the breakdown of Brazilian social institutions. In any case, the facts on Brazilian society are indeed troubling: when the US State Dept. in 1999 systematically reviewed the human rights picture in Brazil, the resulting report was translated by a Brazilian and retitled "Radiography of a Sick Nation" (item #bi2004002876#).

Contrarian Alberto Carlos Almeida calls the field "pessimistic and apocalyptic" (item #bi 99005198#). He argues that Brazil's own admiration for Europe and the US amounts to a "trash pickers' complex." Almeida reviews a series of trends since 1950, and concludes that "historical data reveal that there has been an effective elevation of the living standards of the masses... that consumption increased, poverty decreased, and there was not a breakdown in social policy." Almeida argues that the emphasis on the negative "can be paralyzing," and that while there is still much to be done, "recognizing the improvements that have been made... helps the effort to continue improving."

Barbiero takes a different road, criticizing both sides in this debate, positing that there is not one Brazil, but many (item #bi2001000850#). Brazil's very advantage, he argues, lies in its ability to handle ambiguity and chaos, which situates it well to cope with the new globalizing world. Brazilian sociology must break away from binary codes and the excessive preoccupation with rationality, he argues. This point is taken up in a fascinating volume on the impact of Max Weber in Brazilian sociology, the single most cited author in dissertations and Master's theses in the field (item #bi2001007036#). Weber's evolutionary idea that modernity requires Western-style economic rationality and Protestant values has held a powerful grip on analysts of Brazilian "backwardness," and many of the authors argue that this outlook has led to a serious devaluing of the nation's social system and culture.

One question examined this biennium is whether inequality is accepted in Brazil because there is improved quality of life and elevated social mobility, as Almeida argues. Scalon's study finds very stark divisions between manual and non-manual classes in Brazil, with very little mobility (item #bi2001006975#). A series of studies examines the persistence of poverty, unemployment, "marginality," and homelessness in Brazil (items #bi2001007022#, #bi2002001662#, #bi2004002136#, and #bi2001006977#). Many describe the new organizations and social movements that attempt to address these issues, or argue that drastic new steps must be taken to help solve these social problems (items #bi2002002797#, #bi2001007005#, and #bi2001006988#).

A core of Brazilian sociology has been the study of class and class-based organizations, and again a series of studies takes up the question of the role of unions in different industries and political periods (items #bi2001007003#, #bi2001007028#, #bi2001007016#, and #bi2002002805#). These studies gained increased relevance with the election of Luís Ignacio Lula da Silva, a former leader in the São Paulo metalworkers union, to the nation's presidency. Unions and their national organizations, the Worker's Central Confederation (CUT) and the Worker's Party (PT), have been important in a series of social movements in Brazil, both urban and rural.

Sociological studies in the area of environment remain an essential part of the sociological literature in Brazil, examining the way that social structures determine how risk is generated. The Federation of Social and Educational Assistance Groups (Federação de Órgãos para Assistência Social e Educacional—FASE) has pioneered partnerships between academics and social activists on social environmental issues. Their series on "Sustainable and Democratic Brazil," and their efforts at movement-building, seek to combine social justice and environmental problem-solving (item #bi2004002874#).

Research on agrarian reform was also prevalent (items #bi 00003361#, #bi2001003967#, #bi2001003991#, #bi2002004330#, #bi 00005914#, #bi2001006989#, and #bi2001000890#), with many studies noting a significant change in land-use throughout the 1990s and an increase in land occupations by the Movimento Sem Terra (MST or Landless Rural Worker's Movement). One study also noted solidarity between urban and rural movements with a case study of a rural settlement comprised of over 80 percent displaced, unemployed, and/or homeless people from urban areas (item #bi2001003438#).

As in the past, gender and race capture the attention of a large number of Brazilian sociologists. In the area of research on women, gender, and gender discrimination, public policy recommendations and education go hand-in-hand with the sociological research in Brazil. For example Pereira Lopes da Silva's study on teenage prostitution not only described the situation (item #bi2001006961#), but in a second phase of the research project, provided educational seminars to improve living conditions of the very girls and women they interviewed. Likewise, Ometto, Hoffmann, and Corrêa Alves' study on discrimination in the work force in São Paulo and Pernambuco states identifies the types of gender-based discrimination prevalent in both states (item #bi 00005870#), and also suggests public policies relevant to these findings: providing opportunities for women to enter traditionally male occupations (to combat inter-occupational discrimination) and levying punitive measures against employers who violate the Brazilian constitutions' mandate of equal-pay-for-equal-work (to combat intra-occupational discrimination).

Moreira's study identifies a major shift in demographics by the year 2050 in which the majority of the dependent population will be the elderly rather than the young (item #bi 99004899#). This elderly dependent population will be comprised mostly of women. Moreira suggests that during the window of time when the overall dependent population will decrease, public policies should be implemented to prepare for this future shift.

Researchers also identified areas of a paucity of research on issues directly affecting women. Machado and Alves' study concerning female sexuality within religious groups notes that whereas there is a vast bibliography on Pentecostal communities in Brazil, few studies research the effects these communities have on the private sphere of the church member and specifically on gender relations (item #bi 99010103#). Hewitt's study of women's participation in Christian Base Communities also noted that although there has been much interest in the division of labor along gender lines in social movements in Brazil and in Latin America as a whole, and some research on women's participation in CEBs, little research has been done to identify the factors that encourage or discourage political awareness and full participation by women within specific groups (such as CEBs) and in the larger political arena (item #bi2001000354#).

Studies on race, race relations, and racial discrimination in Brazil also tend to describe and apply findings, rather than offering suggestions for public policy changes. Grin's evaluation of a seminar on multiculturalism and racism and the role of affirmative action, sponsored by the Brazilian government in June 1996, shows the difficulty in enacting public policy to counter racism when ideologies concerning race and racism are so divided (item #bi2001003902#). Grin's essays present seminar participants' arguments calling for public policies of "affirmative action" based on "race consciousness," and public policies of "universal scope" based on the ideology of "color blindness." Grin suggests that this very divide points towards the maintenance of an order whose social and symbolic operations are based in "ambivalence, in the principle of non-contradiction, and mediation."

Henriques' study provides numerous statistics demonstrating the extent of racial inequality in Brazil in terms of income, education, workforce, child labor, etc. (item #bi2002001680#). He also counters the "universalistic" argument which declares that as the country does better as a whole, blacks will also benefit, by demonstrating that despite overall improvements in, for example, access to education or better living conditions, the disparity between blacks and whites has remained stable for generations. Throughout the entire 20th century, black children, parents, and their grandparents have lived the same racial differential concerning their white contemporaries in terms of education. Henriques explicitly calls for public policies of racial preference for social and economic inclusion and states that the next stage of research will prioritize the generation of proposals for public policy.

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