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Recently completed field studies and research from primary sources on Brazil constitute the main interest of this seminar. Brazilian, the U.S. and other visiting scholars participate, contributing their interpretations of recent events. Portuguese may be spoken whenever convenient.

Professor Diana Brown

Professor John F. Collins

Professor Sidney M. Greenfield

Professor Vania Penha-Lopes 

Bruna Credidio Camara

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

09/26/2019 802 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:15 PM
How to curb deforestation in the Amazon forest
Marina Silva, Former Brazilian Minister for the Environment and Presidential Candidate


The Amazon is reaching a tipping point. Spanning over seven million square kilometers, the Amazon basin accounts for over 40 percent the world´s entire stock of tropical forests, 20 per cent of the global fresh water supply and 20% of the living species of our planet. It is also home to 184 indigenous peoples, which speak 120 different languages. Citizens around the globe watched with great concern the recent fires in the Amazon forest. But this is just one of many challenges threatening the biggest tropical rainforest in the world.

10/24/2019 802 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:15 PM
Improving Public Security in Brazil and Latin America - contributions from civil society
Ilona Szabó de Carvalho, Igarapé Institute (Brazil)


The presentation will discuss the scope and scale of the problem of insecurity in Brazil and Latin America, and the links between violent crime and democratic decay. It will also showcase the ways civil society organizations, such as the Igarapé Institute, are contributing to improve policy and action, and reinforce democracy in the region.

11/14/2019 802 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:15 PM
Understanding politics in present-day Brazil: Assessing candidates and imagining the state
Martijn Koister, Radboud University (The Netherlands)

Flávio Eiró, Radboud University (The Netherlands)


To contribute to a better understanding of Brazil’s recent rearrangement of political forces, including the election of Bolsonaro, we analyze and compare the ways in which both residents and political candidates imagine politics and the state in Northeast Brazil. In this paper, we build on our long-term research in low-income neighborhoods in two cities in Pernambuco and Ceará. First, we analyze the different frames of reference the urban poor use for assessing and choosing their political candidates. We show how classic theorizations of poor people’s politics in terms of reciprocity and economic rationality are not sufficient to understand the recent changes and the current setting. We add different frames of reference – disenchantment, cynicism, indifference, a conservative ethos, religious reflections – and show how these frames find expression in more or less amalgamated forms. Next to analyzing people’s immediate and long-term expectations of politicians, we take into consideration their imaginations of the state (as a provider of goods, a caregiver, a traitor, a punitive force). Second, we also look at politics “from the other side”, based on fieldwork on political candidates and their campaigns during the 2018 elections. We analyze how these candidates and their staffs navigate the new political setting, instrumentally mobilize votes and interpret the ways the urban poor engage with politics. We critically examine the tensions they experience in, on the one hand, attending to people’s direct needs and, on the other, the performance of what they consider a truly noble politics.

12/12/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:15 PM
Fake News and Democracy: The Role of Public Communications in the fight against Post-Truth
Jean Wyllys, Brazilian Federal Deputy

Fernando Salis, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)


In the era of social media is there room for public communications? What would it look like? What role could public communications play in the fight against fake news, hate speech and political fiction? How might it help democracy? Starting from the creation of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro public radio in the context of the turbulent "Brazilian journeys of June" 2013, to the present day CPI (parliamentary committee of inquiry) of fake news at the National Congress, this presentation is the result of a process of intellectual dialogue and political partnership between federal deputy Jean Wyllys and UFRJ professor Fernando Salis on the influence of fake news on democratic processes and the centrality of moral agendas as a fascist electoral strategy. Focused on the common project of creating a public radio station, in which the federal deputy introduced parliamentary amendments for the development of the project at UFRJ, Wyllys and Salis reflect on the tortuous paths Brazilian democracy has taken since the “coup”/impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff through the presidential election of 2018. They will explore the moral agendas that took center stage and their implications both nationally and internationally, comparing them to the methods adopted to the Brexit and Trump elections, and the rise of the new international right wing sustained by fraudulent communicative actions in electoral processes, as well as the maintenance of administrations based on monitoring and the use of media and social networks. Their guiding hypothesis is that public communications with social participation is the best antidote to this hacking of democracy and liberal values by the production of fake news on a global scale.

Fake news e democracia: o papel da comunicação pública no combate à pós-verdade

Em tempos de mídias sociais, ha lugar para uma comunicação pública? Como ela seria? Que papel poderia cumprir no combate à fake news, discursos de ódio e ficções políticas? Como ajudaria a democracia? Partindo da criação da rádio pública da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro no contexto das turbulentas "jornadas de junho" de 2013, chegando aos dias atuais da CPI das fake news no Congresso Nacional, essa comunicação é o resultado do processo de diálogo intelectual e parceria política entre o deputado federal Jean Wyllys e o professor da UFRJ Fernando Salis sobre a influência das fake news nos processos democráticos e a centralidade das pautas morais como estratégia eleitoral fascista. Centrados no projeto comum da criação de uma rádio pública, em que o mandato do deputado enviou emendas parlamentares para o desenvolvimento do projeto na UFRJ, Jean e Fernando refletem sobre os caminhos tortuosos que tomaram a democracia brasileira desde a formulação do golpe midiático que resultou no impeachment da Presidenta Dilma Rousseff, as pautas morais que tomaram protagonismo no processo de eleições presidenciais de 2018 no Brasil, e as implicações internacionais desse processo, sobretudo os reflexos no Brasil dos métodos adotados nas eleições do Brexit, de Trump, e a ascensão da nova extrema-direita internacional sustentada sobre ações comunicacionais fraudulentas em processos eleitorais, assim como na manutenção de administrações baseadas em monitoramento e utilização de mídias e redes sociais. A hipótese que guia esse diálogo é a de que a comunicação pública com participação social é o melhor antídoto para esse verdadeiro hackeamento da democracia e dos valores liberais operado pela produção industrial fascista das fake news em escala global.

12/19/2019 802 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:15 PM
Presidential Elections, Whiteness, and the Right in Brazil and the U.S.
Vânia Penha-Lopes, Bloomfield College


There are notable similarities between the elections of Donald Trump in 2016 and of Jair Bolsonaro two years later, to the point where the latter has been called “Tropical Trump.” This presentation, part of a manuscript (forthcoming, Lexington Books), is based on a sociological analysis of newspaper, television, and internet reports published in the U.S. and Brazil between 2014 and 2019. I argue that, rather than a “surprise,” the success of each candidate reflects the racially hierarchical structure of their societies as well as the strength of the ideology of White supremacy that is necessary for that structure to remain in place despite efforts to dismantle it. After decades of gains by minorities, women, and the poor in each country, the electoral results reveal the discontent a fear of Whites that their higher status was being threatened and a wish for the return of a past with fewer rights for subordinate groups.

02/20/2020 802 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:15 PM
Luck and Blood: How Children Own Animals in Northeastern Brazil
Gregory “Duff” Morton, Bard College


In the drylands of Northeastern Brazil, a large proportion of farm animals are owned by children, sometimes even by infants and babies not yet born. How do children become owners? Because of "blood" or "luck," farmers say: certain children possess a quality, intrinsic to their personhoods, that allows the animals they possess to flourish.

These ownership practices are common at Maracujá and Rio Branco, two neighboring villages in Bahia, one an MST land settlement, the other a century-old hamlet of small farmers. Both are places where the Brazilian state has a vanishingly tenuous foothold. Until recently, villagers saw no police, no military, no teachers, no doctors, and no officials. Theorists of the contract might assume that, in such a non-bureaucratic context, property relations would be attenuated or communal. But, as child owners demonstrate every da y, personal property pervades the countryside — a property that is ! explained through utterly non-contractual principles.

I argue that child ownership serves as an instrument of oppositionality for self-declared peasant farmers, people positioned at the margins of a plantation system. Children own animals through spoken agreement, not through deed. Children’s property is, by definition, property never deserved through the owner’s labor. And animals, if possessed by children, cannot easily be sold. By pointing to a child’s animal, a farmer highlights the part of the family that remains distant from the world market.

Child ownership thus raises challenges to the assumptions about language, work, and fungibility that underlie juridical notions of property. In the context of a plantation history, a child’s animals point toward the meaningfulness of a particularly refractory peasant aspiration, the aspiration to permanence.

03/12/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:15 PM
meeting cancelled

04/16/2020 802 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:15 PM
Evangelicals in the Amazon
Donizete Rondrigues, University of Beira Interior (Brazil) and Nova University of Lisbon (Portugal)

Notes: Joint meeting with the Seminars on Religion and Content & Methods of the Social Sciences
04/23/2020 802 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:15 PM
R. Parry Scott, Federal University of Pernambuco (Brazil)