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The powers of society

Dictionary encompasses the universe of public policies in 197 entries

Protest march the federation of trade unions called the National Day of Struggle in June 2013 attracted 7,000 people in São Paulo

Jefferson CoppolaProtest march the federation of trade unions called the National Day of Struggle in June 2013 attracted 7,000 people in São PauloJefferson Coppola

Although it is not possible to precisely date its origin in theoretical discussions, the concept of public policy entered the current vocabulary in Brazil around 30 years ago, according to political scientist Marco Aurélio Nogueira, scientific coordinator of the Center for International Analyses and Studies of the São Paulo State University (Unesp), in São Paulo. For Nogueira, the presence of the expression “in society’s bloodstream,” including governments, political parties and social organizations, is an indicator of the transformations that have occurred in the relationship between the State and society in the past three decades. “The concept of public policy is typical of the 20th century, and in its minimum definition expresses public power, planned interventions and problematic social situations,” affirms the researcher.

However, the cycle of preparing and implementing public policies in complex contexts such as those of the current democracies goes beyond minimum definitions. It involves interests in diverse sectors of society, which are at times conflicting, and which imply choices, expenditures and specialized knowledge. All this requires broad discussion and the formulation of strategies. The lack of an adequate theoretical definition to guide studies and actions in this field was what led to the creation of the Dicionário de políticas públicas, (Dictionary of public policies) organized by Nogueira and by sociologist Geraldo Di Giovanni, professor of the Institute of Economics and researcher at the Center for Public Policy Studies (NEPP) of the University of Campinas (Unicamp). The volume was recently published, in a second revised and enlarged edition, by Editora Unesp, with support from the Administrative Development Foundation (FUNDAP), an agency of the São Paulo state government whose purpose is to prepare staff for the public administration.

It was a course in public policy at FUNDAP, worth points in the selection of civil servants for the São Paulo State government that led the two researchers to think about the dictionary. “We realized that there was a need for a shared universe of communication; one that was accessible to anyone, about a topic that requires a very specialized background,” says Di Giovanni. “Our first idea was to prepare a glossary, but we concluded that a dictionary could be a more lasting instrument as a reference work.” Partly inspired by the work of Italian political philosopher Norberto Bobbio in his Dicionário de política (Dictionary of politics) (Editora UnB, 2010), specialists from all over Brazil were called on, and the result was 197 entries written by 181 authors, including the two organizers.

The largest protest in São Paulo, in June 2013, as it reaches the Estaiada Bridge: protests began with the increase in the public transportation fare

Jefferson Coppola The largest protest in São Paulo, in June 2013, as it reaches the Estaiada Bridge: protests began with the increase in the public transportation fareJefferson Coppola

Selection of the entries at first focused on topics directly related to public policies, and later expanded to related areas and concepts. The latter included democracy – an entry provided by José Álvaro Moisés, director of the Center for Research on Public Policies of the University of São Paulo (Nupps-USP) – and bureaucracy, added by Marco Aurélio Nogueira himself. “We wanted to ensure that we gave broad geographical coverage to the regions where our collaborators were active, from Rio Grande Sul to Maranhão, as well as open up the selection process to young specialists,” says Di Giovanni. One guideline in the choice of collaborators was to include analysts from groups that worked in parallel with academia, such as the translator and essayist Luiz Sérgio Henriques, of the online magazine Gramsci e o Brasil. The selection was made from a perspective of interest to the country, with entries such as clientelism, party loyalty and conditional income transfer.

Nogueira defines public policy as the “theoretical child” of the welfare state; it was the prevalent system in the postwar period that took on varying characteristics according to the European democracies, and served as the model for broadly meeting society’s demands for adequate living conditions. The concept of public policy would not exist without the prior creation of a minimum consensus with regard to individual and social rights that citizens could claim. These are the established rights that differentiate public policies from assistentialism, according to Aldaíza Sposati, a professor of the Social Service Post-Graduate Studies Program of the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP) and author of the entry assistentialism. Actions of this type, according to Sposati, are those that are undertaken with the expectation of being seen as gestures of goodwill to be “repaid” by the beneficiaries in the form of votes.

For Di Giovanni, the period of intense demand for social rights that occurred in Europe during the postwar period had its Brazilian counterpart during the years of re-democratization, and its clearest manifestation would be the Constitution of 1988. An example of this would be the figure of the municipal participative councils, which practically did not exist at the time the Constitution was written, but which, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), numbered 38,875 in 2010, throughout Brazil. “Public policies were clear in the re-democratization process because we had to rebuild a country, and the matter entered the agenda of the media,” explains Di Giovanni. “Planned intervention was necessary, as had been the case throughout the world.”

Protesters on the streets: the majority of the protest signs in 2013 were related to public policies considered to be poorly provided

Jefferson Coppola Protesters on the streets: the majority of the protest signs in 2013 were related to public policies considered to be poorly providedJefferson Coppola

In Brazil, the concept of citizenship gained strength during the re-democratization period. According to political scientist José Álvaro Moisés, this was a result of the declarations of the rights of man established by the American and French revolutions in the 18th century. “Citizenship requires civil, political and social rights and depends on freedom and political equality to become effective,” says Moisés. “But elections and the right to vote are not sufficient to guarantee a connection between the interests of citizens and the public policies adopted by the State.” This researcher proposes the concept of quality of democracy, under which the connection between rights and public policies would be based on the actual representation in Parliament, on the independence and accessibility of the Justice System and the need for political parties, “in addition to fighting for power, to create real opportunities so that party militants, supporters or simple voters could influence their paths.”

For Moisés, it was the poor quality of democracy that lead protestors to the streets of Brazilian cities in June 2013. On the one hand, the strong presence of signs promoting topics such as education and health showed, in Di Giovanni’s analysis, the incorporation of civil rights into the general political vocabulary, including “previously relatively marginal claims such as democratization of public transportation.” On the other hand, according to Moisés, the government instances, which generally provide inefficient services, did not demonstrate that they understood the concerns of the protestors and were not able to communicate their attempts at meeting these claims. At the same time, the number of demands made by demonstrators, which ranged from basic services to the civil rights of minorities, showed a degree of complexity for the field of public policies that had probably not been anticipated by those in power. “The organization of society into groups placing pressure and making claims is a characteristic of modern democracies, but our representatives have demonstrated that they have difficulty in dealing with it,” concludes Di Giovanni.

DI GIOVANNI, G.; NOGUEIRA, M. A. Dicionário de políticas públicas. (Dictionary of public policies) 2nd ed. São Paulo: Unesp/Fundap. 2015, 1012 p.