Democracy In Brazil

Laura Tulchin is a graduate of Georgetown University. She came to Rio de Janeiro on a Fulbright scholarship in February 2010. She currently works there and will begin a Masters in Political Science at the State University of Rio de Janeiro in March.

Alexis De Tocqueville, in his classis book, Democracy in America, opens with, "Among the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of conditions."

This sentence is a point of reference for me as an American when I think about what I like so much about Brazilian life, where I currently live. Rather than equality of conditions such as economic, health or education (which is far from the truth), Brazilian society resonates with a general equality of CULTURE, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, the cultural hub of the country. A democratic spirit thrives in Brazil, "a cultural collectivism", that gives life here a combination of cohesion and openness rarely seen in the United States or Europe.

I came to Rio almost two years ago on a Fulbright scholarship to study affirmative action in the public university system. My research focused on education policy as a reflection of a country's fundamental approach to cultural cohesion - unveiled below, focusing on whether policies of racial quotas are opening up space for diversity and new identities (that perhaps enter in conflict with Brazilian-ness) or solidifying and reinforcing Brazilian identity and citizenship.

My models for these two different ideas of cultural cohesion were:
• France - where equal treatment of all people is the country's dominant policy, prioritizing French culture as a value for strict preservation over other cultures; and
• The United States, where "cultural diversity" and multiculturalism often come at the expense of cultural cohesion.

However, in my research, I found the Brazilian model to be something different altogether. Brazilian culture is strong, tightly wound and concentrated, with particularities and norms that scream "Brazil". But, it is all together democratic. It does not resemble the American or French models, but rather forms something like a middle ground between the two.

What I mean by being democratic is that, although there are enormous issues of inequality in this country (and it's a type inequality different from that being protested on Wall Street), there is a base line cultural consensus that is accessible and accepted by all Brazilians. This cultural base is wide and deep enough to avoid the kind of cultural elitism found in others countries with strong cultural traditions.

Material inequality and poverty in Brazil, while sharply decreasing, is still high

Some examples:
Soccer - In the United States, we have "rich sports," "white sports," "southern sports," etc. In Brazil, there is soccer. It is the number one topic of conversation between Brazilians, regardless of every other social, economic or ethnic factor.

The four main teams

Cheesy - In general, Brazilian culture thrives on cheesy. Novelas (soap operas) take the cliché and melodramatic to record heights. Yet, they are revered by all. Brazilians love Outback Steak House, American restaurants covered with décor of B-52 planes, chain stores, tacky tattoos and romantic comedies. There is no need to keep one's love for anything pop secret. It is reveled.

Samba - Here, people dance. Samba is not reserved for the stage or tourist guidebook recommendation - it is truly lived.


Music - There are certain songs everyone knows, that everyone loves, that are weaved into the cultural fabric. The music of Carnaval is practically a long winded national anthem. These songs have history, and feel representative of a nation's long and often painful story.

Cultural stereotypes in Brazil seem lived out in a different way than American cultural stereotypes. They are shared; they bring people together equally (collective). And, they leave room for the dissenter, for the diversifier, for the foreigner (democratic).

And, Brazilians have a reputation for being friendly and warm. Which raises the point:

Batendo um papo: chattiness -Brazilian culture holds as fundamental to its mechanisms - its ways of doing business, politics, and education - is chatting. In this, there are no personal boundaries. Brazilians will talk with you. And you'll find yourself pulled into this democratic spirit, reliving the last soccer game, gushing over a Julia Roberts movie, moving your body to samba or belting out Carnaval tunes.

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