ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Renewal of Democracy in Brazil's Protests

Despite the diversity of the proposals and preferences among the groups protesting on Brazil's streets, it is possible to identify a common trend among them: the need to make the population the protagonist of public policies, and not just their adjuvant. These protests are democracy itself. All citizens - rich or poor, conservative or left - feel disenfranchised and do not see it as unreasonable to voice their complaints about this together. They are pushing to achieve the possibility of public deliberation on policies and a leadership that will truly pursue national development.

In March 2013, with the government’s popularity riding high and 63% approving of President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s prospects seemed bright both domestically and internationally.1 The occurrence of the country’s largest protests in the last 20 years in June 2013 surprised analysts abroad and even a vast number of Brazilians. The surprise indicated some alienation, but it was understandable considering that Brazil’s situation is far from hopeless despite some oscillations in economic performance, and its high potential for economic growth is recognised worldwide. But the protests rage on and pressure state institutions even after local and central governments have agreed to some important concessions. To try to understand what is happening, we start with two aspects of the reductionist approach that now holds sway in analysing society, which essentially ignores its real complexity. First, any analysed event goes beyond the dimensions measured by large surveys on the government’s popularity. This sort of evaluation mainly uses statistical methods and considers each person interviewed as a voter, which itself is a reduction of a citizen to only one aspect. An individual’s answers to fixed and homogeneous questions do not sum up his or her aspirations and feelings. The surveys obtain simplified and codified information that does not coincide with what the interviewee would express spontaneously. So comes the surprise, because the people have not revealed dissatisfactions related to not only the performance of the regional and national governments, but also the survey system as such. Many of the opinion poll companies are directly connected to Brazil’s big media corporations, which have been at the centre of the protestors’ complaints. The effect of the opinion poll phenomenon is that it reinforces the misinterpretation of social problems and encourages disregarding them, especially because governors use these statistics as guidelines for their actions. Even now, after the gaps in the picture painted by statistics have become clearer than ever, media and poll companies persist with the same kind of measurement to try to understand the profile of protesters and to recalculate the prestige of politicians. The second aspect, also related to a failed way of analysing the complexity of society, is the technocratic and “economicist” approach used in social analyses worldwide. This reduces societies to their economic dimensions, as if the people’s prosperity and satisfaction depends on economic and technical improvements alone, as pointed out by Jacques Levy (2008). As with the large surveys, other aspects of the people’s daily lives are not considered with the seriousness they actually deserve. What is worrying is that the efficiency of this reified economic dimension is evaluated by its practitioners. Those who assess if society is growing are the companies that contribute to maintaining a technocratic lifestyle, making it a self-evaluation. So the power to evaluate the general prosperity of a society has little to do with its own people, and ignores their complexity and diversity. Governors, the media and major analysts in Brazil act from this perspective, building images of the country in accordance with it. This is now falling apart. May be one of the most valuable gains of the protests will be a review of this way of interpreting society, leading to more openness and new ways of expressing and understanding the complexity of social life.

The Movement and the Media

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