Brazil Table of Contents
Critical interpretations of Brazil's social situation in the 1980s and 1990s point to what is seen as a deepening of the economic crisis and the growth of misery and hunger. These interpretations are based on a series of observations and evidence that includes loss of value of the real minimum wage as a result of inflation, high unemployment levels, widespread informal economic activity, cutbacks in government spending on social programs, and mapping of indigence carried out by IPEA in 1990. They also take into account the more visible signs of discrimination and deprivation, such as favelas, camps of landless workers, urban violence, street children, and epidemics of diseases such as cholera and dengue.
However, social indicators on such phenomena as infant mortality, school enrollment, piped water, nutritional status, and protein consumption improved significantly in the 1980s and early 1990s. The improvements have resulted in no small measure from government investments in the social area since the 1970s. These have been called "compensatory social policies" because they seem to have been designed to compensate for the economic policies that favor income concentration. Although they were insufficient, the investments had unquestionably positive effects. To some extent, the benefits also can be attributed to fertility decline, which has biological and socioeconomic effects, and to technological development in the areas of health services and food production.
The apparent contradiction between negative and positive socioeconomic trends can be explained in part by the greater visibility of poverty, which has grown most in urban areas, while the above-mentioned benefits are more diffuse and less visible. However, the problems are not only because of perceptions or misreadings. The basic explanation for the contradiction is the coexistence of simultaneous processes of inclusion and exclusion. Inclusion resulted from extension to the lower middle class, by means of the labor and consumer markets and public services, of some of the benefits of development previously restricted to the upper and upper-middle strata. They have gained from participation in the labor market or markets for their goods and services and from government-provided services, such as education, health, and sanitation. In the simplest terms, the quantity of coverage has increased, although serious problems of quality remain, and the lowest strata continue to be excluded from integral participation in markets and full access to government services.
The perception of crisis is accentuated by the fact that social mobility slowed down considerably in relation to the rapid expansion of the upper middle class in the 1960s and 1970s. According to national surveys of household expenditures, 47 percent of the heads of household questioned in 1973 said that they were better off than their parents. In 1988 the proportion fell to 38 percent, and 60 percent responded that they were the same or worse off than their parents.
In sum, social polarization persists, but it is no longer a duality. Its boundaries are multiple and mobile, depending on the dimension, and remain poorly defined. There is a vast middle ground that defies simple analyses and explanations and includes the upwardly and the downwardly mobile.
Macroeconomic policies aimed at stabilization and competitive insertion of Brazil into global markets contribute to slower economic growth and structural unemployment, which in turn worsen exclusion. At the same time, government authorities have stated their intention to give priority to social equity, the reduction of regional inequalities, and the defense of human and citizen rights. Effective achievement of these goals, to the extent that economic conditions permit, depends on appropriate analysis, political will, and especially the ability of citizens to make their demands clear.
It is unclear whether never-ending economic and political crises, disasters, and scandals will provoke disillusionment with the redemocratization process and with Brazil's future, or whether Brazilian society will continue to change in the direction of greater equilibrium within society and between society and the environment. There are important signs that significant change is underway. The campaign against hunger and misery and for citizens' rights launched by Herbert "Betinho" de Souza, a sociologist, made many Brazilians aware of the poverty that surrounds them and made clear that economic growth or government benefits alone will not solve their problems. The process of decentralization opened up opportunities for participation but raised questions about pork-barreling, accountability, and the ability of local governments and civil society to make and implement informed decisions. The question is to what extent the progressive forces will prevail so that even if inequality persists, it will not be attributed to a failure of Brazilian society to respond.
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While taking into account the contributions of foreign Brazilianists, this chapter draws heavily on the work (in Portuguese) of Brazilian authors. The most basic references in English are Thomas Lynn Smith's Brazil: People and Institutions , now quite dated; Charles Wagley's revised edition of An Introduction to Brazil ; Mark Carpenter's Brazil: An Awakening Giant ; and Ronald M. Schneider's Brazil: Culture and Politics in a New Industrial Powerhouse .
For social aspects of the Amazon, in addition to the work of the geographers mentioned above, Wagley's Amazon Town is a classic. His Man in the Amazon and Marianne Schmink and Charles H. Wood's Frontier Expansion in Amazonia are useful edited volumes. The latter authors' study entitled Contested Frontiers and Alexander Cockburn and Susanna Hecht's Fate of the Forest provide some of the best analyses of recent social and environmental trends. Manoel Correa de Andrade has written classic analyses of the land and people of the Northeast. Albert O. Hirschman's Journeys Toward Progress describes government efforts to deal with the region's droughts.
Sociological perspectives on environmental problems and policies in Brazil are provided in Dilemas sócioambientais e desenvolvimento sustentável , edited by Daniel Hogan and Paulo Vieira da Cunha, and População, meio ambiente e desenvolvimento , edited by George Martine. Perceptions of environmental issues among leaders and the general public are analyzed in Samyra Crespo and Pedro Leitão's O que o brasileiro pensa sobre meio ambiente . Authors who have written about Brazilian environmental problems and policies in English include Martine, Hecht, Emílio Moran, Peter May, and John O. Browder.
The basic reference in English on various aspects of population in Brazil is Charles H. Wood and José Alberto Magno de Carvalho's The Demography of Inequality in Brazil . The historical record is presented by Thomas Merrick and Douglas Graham in Population and Economic Development in Brazil: 1800 to the Present . For specific aspects of population dynamics, see Merrick and Martine.
Economic and social trends are analyzed in Edmar L. Bacha and Herbert S. Klein's edited volume, Social Change in Brazil, 1945-1985 . Brazilian social scientists, such as Fernandes and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, have produced excellent studies on social class in Brazil. Rural class relations are discussed by David Goodman and Michael Redclift. Urban class relations in Brazil have been dealt with mostly by numerous social scientists based in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, including Francisco Weffort and José Álvaro Moisés.
The starting point for analysis on race relations in Brazil is Gilberto Freyre's The Masters and the Slaves , followed by The Mansions and the Shanties . Thomas E. Skidmore's study, Black into White , dispels some of the ideology of racial democracy. Race, Class and Power in Brazil , edited by Pierre-Michel Fontaine, offers a political perspective.
John Hemming provides a detailed historical account of Amerindians in Brazil in Red Gold , and Shelton H. Davis criticizes the situation existing in the 1970s in Victims of the Miracle . A recommended 1992 study is Manuela Carneiro da Cunha's História dos índios do Brasil . The indigenous languages are catalogued in Barbara F. Grimes's Ethnologue .
Wagley's An Introduction to Brazil is an authoritative starting point on unity and diversity of culture in Brazil in the postwar period. Family and kinship have been analyzed by, among others, Aspásia Camargo. Gender is a more recent concern. Authors who have written on this issue include Heleieth I.B. Saffioti. The volume Mulheres Latinoamericanas em dados: Brasil contains statistical data on women in Brazil. The Carlos Chagas Foundation in São Paulo publishes regularly on women's issues.
Studies of religion in Brazil have been limited for the most part to specific topics. In Miracle at Joaseiro , Ralph Della Cava writes on traditional Catholicism in the Northeast and the worship of Padre Cícero. Seth Leacock and Ruth Leacock's Spirits of the Deep is an example in English of the literature on Afro-Brazilian traditions.
The section on health status and health care draws heavily from studies by the PAHO. Statistical analyses of diseases, nutrition, and health-care resources are taken from reports published by the UNDP, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Foreign and Brazilian authorities on the national health-care system are also cited. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of April 1997
Brazil Table of Contents