The civilizing force of social movements: Corporate and liberal codes in Brazil's public sphere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Analysts of political culture within the "civil religion" tradition have generally assumed that discourse in civil society is structured by a single set of enduring codes based on liberal traditions that actors draw upon to resolve crises. Based on two case studies of national crises and debate in Brazil during its transition to democracy, I challenge this assumption by demonstrating that not only do actors draw upon two distinct but interrelated codes, they actively seek to impose one or another as dominant. In Brazil this is manifest in actors who defend elements from the code of liberty and its valuation of the freestanding citizen, and those who defend the corporate code and its valuation of the collectivity over the individual. In an earlier debate on crime the corporate code was dominant, but in a later debate surrounding presidential improprieties, the liberal code became dominant. This analysis makes two contributions to the literature: it highlights the importance of nonindividualist cultural codes, such as the corporate code, in animating discourse in the public sphere in democratizing societies, raising attention to the importance of the symbolic, contestation between actors seeking to establish one or another code during political transitions. Second, it offers a subtle commentary on the literature on demoralization: changes in collective representations in the public sphere may not proceed apace of institutional changes and may be contingent on the kinds of crisis events and actors willing to contest previously dominant codes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-311
Number of pages27
JournalSociological Theory
Volume24
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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