Bras. Political Sci. Rev.. 11/Feb/2014;8(1):80-108.
The Path of Brazilian Social Assistance Policy Post-1988: the Significance of Institutions and Ideas
This paper analyzes the construction of the social assistance policy at the federal level in Brazil over the last two decades. It focuses on the Federal Constitution of 1988 and subsequent infra-constitutional legislation, especially that enacted during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) administrations, which showed very different conceptions of social policy. For both administrations, we analyze the consequences of the institutional changes and legal framework introduced as well as the social policy ideas that informed them.
It is argued that the construction of social assistance in Brazil demanded much more than the constitutional provisions enacted in 1988. It included the entire set of subsequent constitutional legislation, a process in which the ruling party played a critical role. Categories of neo-institutionalism and the method of process tracing, plus in-depth interviews with relevant actors, were employed. Our findings point to the impact of the interaction between institutional structures, like constitutions and policy legacies, and the political projects of governing parties. Constitutional provisions, even if not bound to a policy, can prevent setbacks and anchor the action of pressure groups. They can also allow progressive administration to change the status quo.