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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Communities, Traffickers and the State: The Transformation of Urban Social Policy in Brazil

  • Author(s): Morfit, Nicholas Simon
  • Advisor(s): Evans, Peter
  • Swidler, Ann
  • et al.

Academic work on Brazil has long underscored the state's shortcomings. Past scholarship portrayed a state beset by patronage, held captive to elite interests and mired in inefficiencies that impeded the basic practice of governance. The literature on Brazilian urbanism depicted the state as particularly deficient. State interaction with favelas, disadvantaged communities common throughout the country's cities, demonstrated state-society relations at their most fraught. The state alternatively neglected favelas, failing to extend to them same services and rights that the formal city enjoyed; abused them, destroying communities through violent demolition campaigns, sanctioning police brutality and colluding with drug traffickers; or exploited them for political gain through clientelistic networks.

In the wake of democracy's return to Brazil there are many indications of substantial changes to state capacity. These advances demand a re-evaluation of state-society relations and an interrogation of the continued utility of past theoretical frameworks. Through a case study of Rio de Janeiro, this dissertation explores the ramifications of the re-emergence of state sponsored welfare for disadvantaged urban communities. I examine how relationships among the state, favela residents and drug traffickers change with the proliferation of new equalization measures. Through quantitative, geographic and qualitative analyses, my data reveal impressive gains in the scale and reach of recent social policies. New connections linking the Brazilian state with favela residents have emerged. Each conceptualizes and interacts with the other in novel ways. Such achievements, however, are accompanied with the notable cost of further complicating the state's relationship with drug trafficking. Nevertheless, these developments underscore the need to cease privileging deficit perspectives when analyzing the Brazilian state. The recent social policies reflect a newly re-invigorated beneficent dimension of the Brazilian state, one that warrants closer scrutiny.

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