CLAS Lecture: Finances and Society in Contemporary Brazil

This is an Archive of a Past Event

CLAS Lecture: Finances and Society in Contemporary Brazil

Speaker: Professor Roberto Grün, Joaquim Nabuco Chair in Brazilian Studies

Professor Grün’s talk will focus on the main argument from his most recent book published in Brazil: Decifra-me ou te devoro: O Brasil e a dominação financeira, ed. Alameda. For the last thirteen years, Brazil has simultaneously had a left-wing government as well as a spread of financial devices and mind’s templates normally called “financialization”. How has this intriguing thing occurred? This entity, that Brazilian social critiques call “ornitorrinco” or “duckbill”, in which concerns and sensibilities, both from the left-wing tradition and the international contemporary financial world, are somehow hybridized and can show us nuances either for the contemporary finance or for the present possibilities of a “populist”, or “progressive”, way of government.

We can explain the duckbill by looking at how and when some previous convergences occurred and developed during the Workers’ Party government. Departing from an analysis of the social space created in the 1990’s in which pension funds brought capital for the privatization process, we saw the emergence and consolidation of some major devices, particularly, the idea of “corporate governance” as a frame of mind for understanding firms and other organizations. This idea of corporate governance was put in place both by union members from the Workers’ Party trying to get access to new ways to influence major economic decisions, and by the new economists and lawyers called “Chicago boys” carving their space in Braziian élites.  

This tense but, for years, workable configuration produced some new things, in particular, a brand of corporate governance and private equity funds concerned with environment and social problems. After all those years, this formula seems to be exhausted. But even if the windows are closing, we can see that both left-wing governments and finances can be more plastic and adaptive than we had previously thought.

Professor Roberto Grün is the author of 4 books and 50 articles on immigration, economic and financial sociology. Professor Grün teaches Organizational Behavior and Sociology in the Federal University of São Carlos, Brazil, where he leads the Center for Economic and Financial Sociology (NESEFI). He is currently the Joaquim Nabuco Chair in Brazilian Studies at Stanford’s Center for Latin American Studies.