Brazil and the World

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:40 AM
Columbia Hall 5 (Washington Hilton)
Steven Topik, University of California, Irvine
My contribution will focus on the largest of Latin America’s countries and the one most intimately entwined with the world. Brazil’s current economic  surprises  many observers who consider it just another Third World outpost, though a particularly large one. Brazil, more than almost anywhere else, was shaped by its engagement with the broader world. Viewing themselves from an international perspective, Brazilians have constructed contradictory historical models like championing their wonderful natural resources in the empowering “Deus e brasileiro” trope or  the  “boom and bust” version  which emphasizes the distorting forces of engagement with the world that subjected Brazil to a servile position. But I will argue that Brazilians have been as much innovators as victims on the world stage.

            Brazilians  revolutionized the worlds of rubber, sugar, and coffee and eventually transformed notions of the proper roles of third world states in major international markets. They also turned  alchemists by  transforming  coffee into urban factories.  In the Age of Empire Brazil not only did not lose territory or sovereignty , it expanded its borders, And Brazilians diversified their dependency by playing off various European and US investors  against each other while the state greatly increased its economic role. They took an independent role in relations with Africa as well. Brazilians not only defended themselves against powerful foreigners but embraced and integrated foreigners as the world’s largest recipient of  trans-Atlantic Africans and one of the largest for European immigrants.

            Though long swayed by the principles of liberalism, Brazilians came to make important contributions to original theories of development (dependency), race , cultural amalgamation  and religious syncretism. Just as Brazilians combined an imported British game with African abilities and tropical grace to transform their “jogo bonito” into a world soccer powerhouse, so have Brazilians shaped the world in which they are performing.

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