Pedro Mendes Loureiro is an Associate Professor of Latin American Studies at the Centre of Latin American Studies (CLAS) and the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS). Primarily a political economist, at the heart of his work is a commitment to interdisciplinarity and methodological pluralism, with interests ranging wide across the social sciences. Substantively, Pedro is a scholar of inequality and of development strategies, with the ultimate goal of helping combat social inequalities in all their forms and wherever they might arise. He has researched and published on, amongst others, the political economy of development strategies in Latin America; on the changing dynamics of race, class and gender inequality; on social policies and their politics; on inequality measurement; and on the history of Latin American social thought. Recently, his research has turned to the expansion of the prison system in Brazil. Pedro also collaborates with development agencies and NGOs in devising frameworks and policies to tackle multidimensional inequalities. Until 2023, he was a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, where he directed studies for the Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) and History and Politics Triposes.
During my CRASSH fellowship, I will begin work on a new project studying the long-term reproduction and reconfiguration of social inequalities in Brazil.
Brazil is infamous as one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a large literature delving into the topic. From an economic perspective, different patterns of income and wealth inequality are well-known: concentrated land-holding structures in an agrarian society until the mid-20th century gave way to bifurcated urban labour markets during industrialisation, only marginally mitigated by a patchy social security network in the financialised economy of the 21st century. The roles of colonialism, slavery and their legacies also figure prominently. As the country that received the most enslaved Africans in the world, it has a long afterlife of coerced labour bleeding into racialised police violence and some of the highest incarceration rates in the globe. The role of the state has also been emphasised in a variety of ways, not least its uneven territorial reach between cities and rural regions and between high- and low-income neighbourhoods, showing its repressive or service-providing face depending on the skin colour and class of those on the receiving end.
Yet, despite their enduringly high levels, inequalities in Brazil have seen dramatic transformations. Following the three examples above, the plantation economy of the 19th century is very different from the heyday of import-substitution industrialisation in the 1970s and the contemporary urban economy. Similarly, the black and brown community has been oppressed from formal slavery to eugenics, from the myth of racial democracy in the 1930s to, more recently, affirmative racial actions amidst enduring racialised state violence – but the mechanisms that effect this oppression and the ideas that underpin them are qualitatively different. Politically, Brazil was an empire until 1889, a low-franchise ‘republic of oligarchs’ until 1930, and alternated between authoritarian and (partially) democratic regimes since then. None have delivered low levels of social inequality, but they have enforced social hierarchies through distinct means. Simple explanations of historical continuity are, therefore, insufficient.
Drawing on this, this project asks: how and why have social inequalities in Brazil remained high since Independence in 1822 until the present day, despite and through numerous institutional transformations? Hypothetically, this points to enduring mechanisms of resilience and flexibility at the top of social hierarchies and of vulnerability and constraints at the bottom. To unpack this, this will project will zoom into critical episodes of the country’s political-economic history, such as the transition from enslaved to partially free labour at the turn of the 20th century and re-democratisation alongside neoliberalisation in recent decades. Using a combination of archival, qualitative, and quantitative methods, I will seek to identify common mechanisms, processes, and patterns that connect these experiences of dynamic preservation of inequality over time.