Friday, June 21, 2013

Explaining Protests in Brazil

People are scrambling to understand the massive protests in Brazil. Unfortunately, we tend to get a well-meaning laundry list of ills, so that inequality, growth slowdown, weak currency, and stock market drops are all mushed together as causes.

In academia, people have been working to figure this out. Why do people protest? Party fragmentation (a major issue in Brazil) can matter, weak institutions matter, economic liberalization (which happened quite a long time ago in Brazil, so timing is iffy here) can matter, as can use of social media. This is just a quick scattering of studies.

I don't have a great answer. But the research on protests should caution us not to focus excessively on conjunctural factors at the expense of structural ones. In other words, it is tempting to witness a protest, then just walk backwards to identify what conditions were present, then correlate the protest with those conditions. Just because an economy slows down does not mean people protest. Otherwise there would be far more protests than there are now.

It is also useful to keep relative deprivation in mind, and many news articles are at least hinting at this. Economic slowdown, inequality, etc. matter much more when people believe they should be doing better. This does not necessarily mean they are "middle class" hoping for better, which also pops up in media accounts. Rather, it just means that whatever their socio-economic level, they figure they should be doing better and at a certain point (timing is so hard to pinpoint) they mobilize. James Davies' famous theory of revolutions could shed light on Brazil. There is no revolution going on in Brazil, but if we take it down a notch to protests, then we are seeing years of growth/expectations followed by a sharp reversal.


Sydney Pinser 5:00 PM  

Thank you so much! I am so honoured! I would also like to say congrats on your nomination! Well done! I stumbled upon your blog and am so glad I did – I quite enjoy your posts! Happy posting.

Randy Paul,  6:17 PM  

You're also seeing what happens when the outsiders become the mainstream. Before Lula was elected I can remember business leaders saying that they actually preferred dealing with the PT than other parties because there was less corruption with the PT.

Then came the mensalão, Dirceu's conviction and all the difficulties with cost overruns shoddy workmanship and allegations of corruption surrounding the World Cup and Olympics. So when everything should have been working better, precious little has, in fact changed.

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