Bureaucratic Autonomy in Brazilian Federal Agencies: Development and Decay. A guest lecturer by Dr Kate Bersch.


Arts Building Room 160, 853 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 0G5, CA

Huntington’s influential Political Order in Changing Societies argued that institutions—"stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” (1968, 450)—are crucial for political development and decay. Yet Huntington relied on broad characterizations, rather than concrete empirical measures, to evaluate processes of development and decay, and his work made no effort to distinguish between agencies working in different policy arenas. This paper disaggregates the state’s role as an actor in political development and develops empirical indicators of key characteristics of state agencies. Drawing on data from more than 300,000 civil servants in Brazil, it describes the distribution of within-country variation in bureaucratic capacity and political autonomy in Brazil's federal agencies.  It then engages in a pioneering effort to chart changes in individual agencies’ autonomy over time (a subsequent paper looks at capacity), helping to objectively chart patterns of institutional development that have long been the object of subjective speculation. While many agencies have developed stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior over time, in others, political leaders continue to play a defining role. Even over the short period analyzed in this paper (2012-2017), our analysis reveals development advances in some agencies, even as others exhibit evidence of decay, with policy arena playing an important explanatory role. While Huntington theorized that increasing mobilization contributed to decay, our analysis suggests that increased voter involvement and popular demands have played a central causal role in the disparate development trajectories of Brazilian bureaucratic institutions.

A guest lecture by Dr Kate Bersch.  Dr Bersch is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for the Study of International Development.

This Speaker Series is funded by the Erin Jellel Collins Arsenault Trust that supports the Program in Global Governance at ISID.

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