BSP-OUBS Seminar Series: Brazil and the liberal international order: modernity, liminality, and stigma

Speaker: John de Bhal, DPhil Candidate DPIR 


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Scholars and commentators frequently make reference to Brazil’s ‘liminal’ or ‘semi-peripheral’ position in the ‘liberal international order’ but the implications of this social position have not been fully explored. This paper uses the concept of stigmatisation – developed by Erving Goffman and others – to shed light on this phenomenon. It argues Brazil’s early encounters with the core of the international system resulted in a deep-seated stigmatisation, and that this shaped Brazil’s conduct in world politics throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I connect this discussion to contemporary Brazilian foreign policy to argue that even in the post-Cold War era, foreign policy under both Lula and Bolsonaro has been united by a common objective – namely, overcoming Brazil’s stigmatisation – even though they have pursued this ambition in vastly different ways. Through this conceptual lens, Bolsonaro’s relationship with the LIO is presented as more complex than just being a wholesale ‘challenge’ to this order; rather, he often appeals to certain core tenets of the LIO – namely, modernisation and development – to justify the curtailment of environmental and human rights norms. This seemingly contradictory logic can only be properly grasped in reference to Brazil’s stigmatised and liminal position in the LIO and international society more generally.