Research Center for Comparative and International Studies

Much has been written about Brazil in recent years. This is due, in part, to the country’s intrinsic interest – one of the largest economies in the world, the largest country and economy in Latin America, home for approximately 35% of the region’s population. Moreover, the country is known by chronic poverty, enormous regional inequalities and one of the most unequal income distributions to be found in existing countries.

Poverty and inequality seemed to be permanent characteristics of the country. Indeed, these unacceptable social indicators have shown little fluctuation during periods of rapid economic change and/or change of political regime. And the more intriguing is that periods of democracy in which governments should respond to people's demands have had little - if any - effect on these social indicators. Thus, there must be something that impedes or blocks the transformation of the country. Economic and political transformations fail to change the country social structure. Given this picture, social science main task was to explain immobilism and paralysis. Several explanations were advanced. Most of them took backwardness as a sort of pervasive and encompassing category.

Recent trends in social indicators including among others the reduction of poverty and inequality coupled with the resumption of economic growth show that the country is not immune to changes. Moreover, these profound changes have transpired under a democratic regime and, besides, with the resumption of economic growth. Thus, the traditional view about the country has been challenged. The country is not condemned to backwardness, to an inefficient democratic regime, to an economic model in which income is not distributed to the poor and, this is also crucial, whose dynamism depends on the US economy.

Brazil is changing and the world is changing. We stress these transformations just to pin point the overall motivation of our project and to make explicit the point of convergence of the different lines of research that will form the NECI. Our main objective is to contribute to the understanding of the multiple dimensions involved in the transformations the country is going through. We all share the conviction that social sciences as any other science have to provide causal explanations to social phenomena.

The creation of NECI seeks to bring together a group of top-notch scholars with shared research interests, in a single institutional center within the confines of the University of São Paulo. For well-known reasons, in the past a number of high-level researchers associated with the University of São Paulo conducted their research outside the University. Our goal is to bring together within the Center researchers from the Center for Metropolitan Studies, along with professors from the Department of Political Science, the Department of Sociology and the Institute of International Relations. We are driven by the experience of the Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM), a Cepid/Fapesp and a Inct/CNPq funded center. Since its inception in 2000, CEM's activities have focused on research, technology transfer and the dissemination of information. Its partners include FFLCH/USP, CEBRAP, Fundação Seade, INPE, SESC/SP and TV Cultura.

With regard to the CEM's research activities, 32 projects were developed in the last 10 years by 23 PhD and 16 MSc researchers. Seventeen books and 112 articles were published in Brazil and 27 internationally as a result of its research effort. Moreover, 140 articles were presented at scientific meetings both in Brazil and abroad. Twelve academic theses were produced. As for technological transfer, CEM either produced or acquired 80 different geocoded databases integrated into a GIS (Geographical Information System), which is available for download on its website ( The association with the National Institute of Space Research (Inpe) led to the development of a freeware GIS software, available for download at the website, the TerraView Social Policy.

We foresee the creation of a dynamic research center. It will encompass the very best senior and junior scholars in the three disciplines, and will integrate various methodological approaches and substantive research foci in a multidisciplinary, policy-relevant, and self perpetuating positive cycle. The faculty members of the proposed Center have been selected on the basis of their broad research agendas, openness to new methods and techniques, as well as their publication records, which are among the very best in their respective departments.

This point is worth emphasizing: it is our goal to maintain a very strong publication record, and to the extent possible, to leverage the individual strengths of the member faculty to jointly produce internationally-recognized research. For this reason, we have sought to bind ourselves from the first moment: the proposed norms of the Center include rigid and unwavering requirements for faculty members regarding their expected international publication record and their expected presentation of research in domestic and international forums.

Our main objective is thus to create an environment in which scientific dialogue may prosper. Some of the main transformation the country is going through is our object of study. We want to understand how the Brazilian democracy works and affects the well being of their citizens, we want to study the new roles the country is assuming on the international scenario, we want to know how regional and place conflicts express themselves and impact the design of public policies just to cite some of our main lines of research to be presented below. These are distinct and specific subjects of study. However, they must be explained using the same logic of investigation, they ask for the use of common tools.

The emphasis on methodology is based upon a common diagnostic all the members of the NECI share, namely, that is necessary to deepen the internationalization of the Brazilian social sciences. The usual indicators of scientific production provide the basis for this conviction. Few Brazilian social scientists publish abroad regularly. For us, a great deal of this situation is due to the lack of appropriate methodological training. And this problem is even more pressing with the new generation.

It is our objective is to continuously strengthen the methodological skills of our member faculty, as well as to train a new generation of social scientists in the most advanced cutting edged techniques available worldwide. If we are to succeed in making the Center a long-term presence at the University of São Paulo, we must engage in constant training of our faculty and students, following the CEM’s experience. In particular, this is essential to creating a constant flow of leading young scholars who are able to converse with their peers outside Brazil. As part of this conversation, we must also make every effort to bring leading international academic luminaries to the University.

Our goal in this methodological aspect is two-fold. First, at the level of student training, we seek to institutionalize existing training programs such as the IPSA Summer School on Concepts and Methods in Political Science and International Relations, deepen the reach of these programs to students from Brazil and the rest of world, and augment the quantity of courses offered to faculty and doctoral students alike. We seek both to train a new generation and to create international networks of scholars who recognize the University of São Paulo as the premiere academic setting in Latin America for social science research. Second, we aim to hold regularly scheduled workshops that can be used to generate internationally-competitive publications, with contributions by renowned scholars from both Brazil and abroad.

We know that the scientific cannon and commitment to methods is an empty commitment without substantive and important question. One applies a method to answer questions. As mentioned above, our main questions are related to the profound transformations Brazil has gone through in the recent decades. And, as we have already advanced, we will take as our main objects some of these transformations. The subjects chosen are nothing but different angles of observation of this encompassing transformation.

The different lines of research will follow a common approach. We want to highlight the connection between the recent Brazil transformation and the way social sciences usually treated these questions. As we pointed out above, social science standard knowledge about Brazil was not able to predict these transformations. More than that, they tended to deny the possibility of their occurrence. Thus, we need more than simply studying these novel developments. We need also to understand why we thought the way we used to think about them. In most cases, this dual operation asks for a clear identification of the causal mechanisms invoked to explain the phenomenon. Sometimes, we need to understand why social science attention was diverted from some objects, for instance why some type of conflicts were relegated to oblivion.

Take for instance the study of the Brazilian democracy. There are several explanations available to account for its alleged inefficiencies. More recently, political science has been captured by the neo-institutionalist movement. Explanations for the alleged inefficiency and paralysis of the Brazilian political system adapted to the new mood. According to the neoinstitutionalist view, the Brazilian political system epitomizes everything that should undermine the consolidation of a democratic regime: a presidential regime with a weak and fragmented party system; extremely permissive electoral laws that favor candidates over political parties; a fragmented congress that torpedoes presidential initiatives; and presidents who not only are able to, but who have strong incentives and are able to bypass congress and to rule by decree. Thus, conflicts between Congress and the President characterize the working of the system.

This pessimistic diagnostic relies heavily on the alleged consequences of the the open-list proportional representation (OLPR) system adopted by Brazil. The effect of this system would be politicians would concentrate their electoral campaigns and legislative activities on the provision and championing of divisible policies that can be targeted to geographically delimited constituencies, which they informally carve in the system’s multi-member districts. Thus, adoption of provides politicians with the incentives and means to neutralize electoral competition.

This view, however, exaggerates the effects of OLPR rules for the strategies of politicians. The crucial aspect for the identification of politicians’ strategies is the geographical distribution of votes. What we need to know and characterize is the degree of electoral competition at the local level. Are politicians capable to carve districts in which they dominate and shut off competition? Does clientelism and patronage is sufficient to establish solid and durable ties between politicians and voters? We believe they are not. We believe this traditional view reads too much from the logic of OLPR system. It neglects the complexity of this system and the multiple incentives for electoral competition it entails. There is not an optimal and unique electoral strategy.

Thus our research on electoral competition addresses some of the key elements of the usual diagnostics about the weakness of the Brazilian democracy. In this research, as the above discussion should have made clear, the spatial distribution of votes, the degree of dispersion through geographical units is fundamental. In this point, from a methodological point of view, it is necessary to improve the tools and the measurement strategies found in the extant literature. One of the main problems to be confronted refers to the unity of data aggregation. The degree of electoral competition usually employed takes the municipality as its unity of reference. It does not take into account the evident heterogeneity of these unities of analysis.

Space structure the political and social conflicts as well as public policies. The local dimension enters our understanding of Brazil as an indicator of backwardness, an echo of the old oligarch order. A second line of investigation will take these issues from a different angle, namely, as part of a concern with the relations between the federal state, place inequality and citizenship. In fact, we claim that place-inequality, although an important issue in Brazil’s political agenda, as well as in a large number of democratic nation-states, has not received the attention it deserves in the Brazilian literature.

Place-inequality, defined as socioeconomic inequality among subunits within a nation state, may (or may not) translate into unequal access to collective goods, since it critically depends on whether and how the spatial distribution of public services reinforces or reduces a given spatial distribution of wealth. Social services delivery and urban infrastructure policies may either reproduce spatial inequality, by providing less and worse services to poorer jurisdictions, or diminish it by de-linking public policy service provision from residents’ income or from a jurisdiction’s tax base. Therefore, place-inequality policies can be as critical a component of citizens’ well-being as policies aimed at reducing income-inequality.

Comparative studies, including Brazil, promises to contribute greatly to this research agenda. Besides being a federal system, with high place-inequality, Brazil has a number of political institutions that the literature suggests create incentives for centrifugal tendencies in both policy decision-making and policy-implementation. Moreover, both state and local governments are in charge of collecting and spending a high proportion of the national budget. Additionally, local governments are the main providers of social services. Primary education, primary health care, enrollment of welfare recipients, housing, urban infrastructure, garbage collection, and public transportation are all implemented at the level of local governments. As a result, most scholars argue that Brazil is among the most decentralized federations in the world. However, this interpretation does not take into account both the regulatory and place-redistribution roles of the federal government in Brazil. Unlike most federations, Brazilian municipal governments are regulated mainly by the central government.

Most comparative literature has focused on measuring and explaining inequality and inequality-reduction policies toward individuals. Policies toward reducing inequality among jurisdictions just recently have become the subject of systematic cross-country comparison. This subproject intends to explore three critical dimensions of territorial justice: the inputs and outputs of territorial, that is: (i) what are the origins and sources of policies toward reducing inequality among jurisdictions and (ii) what are the policies and institutions toward place-inequality reduction and and (iii) what are the impacts of inequality-reduction policies on citizen's well-being.

The federal dimension is the subject of a third line of research. In this case, we depart from the relationship between federalism and trade policy has not been explored in the literature. Specifically, the project consists of a comparative analysis of the State of São Paulo and Maharashtra in the development and execution of national trade policy in Brazil and India respectively. This proposal’s goal is both to contribute to a deeper understanding of the relationship between sub-national government and trade policy and to foster the creation of new hypotheses and research undertakings that may further develop the field of public-policy analysis in both countries. this project’s intention is to explore more thoroughly the face of domestic trade policy in the two principal countries of the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA).

A related project intends to develop instruments of international-trade policies for the São Paulo government. In countless countries like the United States, Canada, Mexico, and India, among others, sub-national governments, especially the richest and strongest ones, adopt trade policies that minimize risks and maximize opportunities in the context of ever-increasing economic globalization. While Brazil’s federal model naturally limits the ability of sub-national governments to craft their own trade policies, the State of São Paulo, with its significant economic heft, must tackle head-on its responsibility to engage in strategic planning in regard to international trade. This project’s primary goal is to assist the state government, through the ministry of development, by leveraging existing tools and creating new ones in the field of subnational trade policy.

This contribution will come about through the synthesis of a body of studies classified along two basic axes and integrated into a matrix to drive analysis and recommendations. The first axis will consider the position of the State of São Paulo in the overall global system. This dimension will emphasize commercial agreements that involve the state government both in the negotiation process and in the investigation of potential positive and negative impacts (opportunities and risks) of the implementation of such agreements. The second axis treats the way that trade policies are steered through their development within the limits of the federal framework. This aspect of the project includes studies on formal competencies in formulating and executing trade policies; comparative federal models; and institutional innovations where the private and public sectors intersect to achieve gains in international competitiveness, policy coordination with other states, export promotion, and tariff initiatives.

Thus, the jurisdictional aspect of Brazilian federation will be tackled from different angles, combining electoral behavior aspects with public policies aiming to reduce jurisdiction inequality as well as trade policies. These lines of investigation are complemented and directly associated with another of our sub-projects, namely, the one that focus on the metropolitan areas. The Brazilian metropolises have been experiencing broad processes of change, both in their social composition and segregation patterns and in their structures of governance. These changes have challenged the existing theories of space production, urban poverty and urban governance, in great part inherited by the discussions of the military period. For the large majority of the debates, large Brazilian metropolises are characterized by radial and concentric structures and highly homogeneous peripheries, produced by a pattern of State intervention that reinforces urban segregation and social inequalities in space. The existing evidences suggest a different scenario, with substantial heterogeneity in metropolitan spaces, as well as decreasing poverty and inequalities of access to public policies and services. By the same token, urban governance seems to be changing substantially under the democratic environment, due to the rise of new actors and the effects of electoral competition. This project aims at contributing to a new understanding of the metropolitan scenario, both by analyzing empirically the recent changes in details and also by producing new explanations to those processes. The project comprises two interrelated but subsequent parts.

The first part focuses on the study of social segregation, urban structure, poverty and housing conditions in the city and inequalities of access to public services and policies. We intend to explore the spatial distribution of social groups, urban segregation patterns, social stratification in space (using EGP categories), the social situation in favelas and in irregular settlements. The results will be comparable with the ones produced in a previous effort using the 2000 Census data. In fact, the publication of the 2010 Census creates a major opportunity for research about this processes, not only by the possibility of updating our comprehension about our cities, but also because it provides in some cases for the first time in Brazil the possibility of analyzing urban structure longitudinally.1

The second part focuses on urban policies, studying the production of infra-structure policies in São Paulo. The study will analyze not only the decision and implementation processes, but also the political dynamics around the policies, involving politicians and private infrastructure producers – mainly builders and developers. The research mounts on previous research by us on the topic studying the policy until 2000. The present research, however, will not only update the analysis for the 2000’s, but also look in greater details on the role of developers, an actors that became central during the period.

Clearly, one cannot understand inequality and economic growth without studying the labor market and its recent transformations. Access to jobs is central to understand individual’s economic opportunities. In order to explore this dimension, our projects are oriented to analyze in depth the institutional and economic mechanisms that affect labor market’s behavior. Hence, the studies in this research line seek to interpret the restructuring of the labor market and its role in reproducing the inequality of opportunities and, in a complementary fashion, the social networks and economic mechanisms affecting job-search mechanisms.

Sociological analysis have been exploring the way occupational opportunities are allocated and, therefore, the role labor market plays on reproducing (or overcoming) inequalities and promoting social mobility. As a matter of fact, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the most important studies conceived the job market as a crucial scenario to explore the sources of stratification and social mobility and its various national patterns. From the 1970s onwards two new questions organized the international debate. The first explored the effect the structure of opportunities within firms had on the social chances for individuals. The 1980s brought another way of approaching the subject. Mark Granovetter's formulation (1974) explored the role of networks, observing the effect of personal contacts on the access to employment information as crucial mediators between employers and job seekers. The research program opened up by Granovetter's seminal study helped to reveal also the strength of intermediation mechanisms in labor market operation. The more flexible employment becomes and the more uncertain opportunities are, more visible and important are those labor market intermediaries. We argue that not only is the labor market and the circulation of information imperfect, and the knowledge of those competing for vacancies unequal, but access to opportunities is socially segmented by the access to occupational information. Comparative analysis will be a crucial methodological instrument. We aim to compare either (i) Brazilian metropolis located in different regional labor market (such as Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Salvador) or (ii) world metropolises under different employment systems and welfare regimes (such as Sao Paulo, Paris and Tokyo). Besides its important to retain the specificity of different segments of the labor force, and we will pay special attention to labor market transitions, occupational information and inequalities among young people and their move from school to the labor market.

This is a quite innovative agenda that differs from the conventional sociological analysis in the way it approaches labor market issues, and will bring fresh data and new hypothesis to the academic discussion and important results to Brazilian public policy on labor market and inequality.

Amartya Sen has argued that economic growth is insufficient in and of itself to explain individuals’ ability to live the life they imagine. And as the World Bank has concluded under the influence of Sen, the greatest obstacle to overcoming poverty may well be poverty itself. The poor are usually not poor solely in monetary terms, but also in terms of the skills they have acquired, their ability to stand up for their rights, and the networks of resources they can draw on to move forward in life. No matter how each individual defines this good life that Aristotle envisioned as the objective of the functioning polis for him or herself, the provision of the capacities and the freedoms to achieve the good life is thus central to the role of the political community.

But as has already been shown by several studies on inequalities, although capabilities are important, their access to the structures of opportunities that may provide welfare is mediated by various social processes and mechanisms. The study of these is crucial since they may foster or boost the use of capabilities, depending on the several institutional and relational setting in which the individuals develop their daily activities. Furthermore, several of these mechanisms present circularities and cumulative effects that contribute to the durability of inequalities in the sense given to the term by Charles Tilly, making the integration of political institutions to the analysis of inequalities a major task.

At the international level, for all the recent talk of the emergence of the lesser-developed countries, there has been little study of whether Brazil is gaining a sustainable toe-hold on the international stage. One of our lines of research attempts to evaluate just that. The main objective in this regard is to understand the foundations of domestic and international South-South coalitions and partnerships in the context of the new multilateral agenda.

This line of research is based on a comparative analysis of countries’ international interests across an array of themes. Comparative analysis of these variables will generate vectors of convergence and divergence among countries that can inform future research about the effectiveness of South-South partnerships. The analysis will take the form of a systematic and exhaustive study of the trajectories of coalitions within the ambit of the WTO. That way, the focus of the research will provide analytic data on the process of coalition formation and shed light on the positions and structural elements of these coalitions’ participating countries.

This new type of arrangements is unexpected one. In the field of international relations, theory predicted little or no autonomous action by countries that were not economic and military powers. For such theories, the economic and political rise of the global south and the deepening of south-south relations were not credible possibilities within the logic of a system defined by the relations between great powers and developed economies.

At the domestic level, theories about transitions from authoritarian to democratic regimes offered pessimistic forecasts about the sustainability and quality of the competitive regimes that followed authoritarianism. These new democracies were considered unstable due to the nature of their institutions and the political practices of their elites, and were thus condemned to populism, clientelistic practices, corrupt electoral processes, and an absence of governability.

Brazil’s trajectory over the past two decades contradicts the predictions of these theories dear to political science, sociology and international relations. Understanding these domestic and external transformations is our objective. Our emphasis will be on studies that adopt a comparative perspective. This is the research agenda for the proposed Center. It is a broad and long-term research agenda, anchored on the possibility of integrating the multiple skills of the participating team members.

1 Although the 2000 Census allowed for geographically detailed comparison with the 1991 Census for the universal questionnaire, it did not for the sample questionnaire, which included information on race, occupation and migration, among others.