Brazil’s soft power

With the recent arrest of a Brazilian Senator and a banker, the corruption scandal within Brazil continues to worsen. Brazil’s image is often exaggerated in the international press. Three years ago Brazil’s star was on the rise, and it was widely touted as an emerging great power. Now most of the news out of Brazil -drought, a failed dam, corruption- is so negative that I sometimes find myself avoiding Brazilian news. As I discussed in an earlier post, there are even rumors of a possible coup, although I strongly don’t believe that this will happen.

I am teaching an entirely online course this quarter, for which I’ve asked me students to do a digital slideshow. In the final week of the class the only course content are the slideshows themselves. Last week students had to share drafts of the slideshows in their small discussion groups, and to provide feedback on other students’ projects. What interests me is the topics that the students have chosen to focus on, which are overwhelmingly about Brazilian culture: capoeira, dance, coffee, carnival, art (this topic is very popular, particularly street art), regional cuisines, literature and music.  I’ve always had people take my modern Brazil class because they were interested in Brazilian culture, in particular the music. Every year there would be two or three musicians in the class, who were fascinated by Brazilian styles. This trend has continued, and this year I have a guitarist in the class, whose ensemble is performing a classical Brazilian piece. I’m also struck by the number of people who are taking the class because they have a spouse or partner from Brazil. What’s most impressive, however, is the breadth of topics that interest students, which are related to Brazilian culture.

I love Brazil, and hate to see so many bad things happening. For this reason, I find it comforting that so many students are interested in Brazil for reasons unrelated to political scandals, environmental disasters, or economic crises. Instead, Brazil’s soft-power is drawing a new generation to study this country, which may prove to be a more enduring source of attention and influence than the Olympics or World Cup that its government avidly sought.

You can find my own book on military terror and politics in Brazil here.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University


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