Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
18 November 2021

Democracy, Inequality, and Immigration

An interview with of AHCD Visiting Fellow Mario Luis Grangeia

This autumn, the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy welcomes Dr. Mario Luis Grangeia. Specialised in citizenship and culture, focusing on issues such as democracy, inequality, and immigration, Dr. Grangeia conducts a project about official images of social policy in Brazil and South Africa in collaboration with Prof. Graziella Moraes Silva. Also a communication advisor at the Brazilian Federal Prosecution Service, he speaks here about his academic activities and interests and his role as a researcher.


You completed your PhD in 2016 at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Could you please briefly share with us your doctoral project?

As Brazil is such an unequal country, I focused on how inequality has been framed by Brazilian governments over the decades. To identify changes and continuities in the official imaginary, I examined speeches of the most recent governments (since the democratization in 1985), as well as the longest one (Getúlio Vargas, 1930–45/1951–54). I identified three meanings attributed to inequality: injustice, which dates back to the moral condemnation of inequality; delay, which responds to inequalities with economic and educational policies; and debt, which highlights the redistribution of resources, by either direct income transfer programmes or distributive reforms. Upon completing my PhD, I published its results in the form of an article in the Revista Brasileira de Sociologia.

Do you have any special memories from your PhD years that you would like to share?

PhD candidates will probably feel stressed out at some point in this four or five-year journey. It was no different with me, and I got very apprehensive about whether I would be able to finish an excellent dissertation. I kept this anguish just for me until I told a friend of mine since the master’s years (Luciana de Souza Leão) and her answer was unforgettable: “Oh, Mario, finally you’re having your PhD crisis. All of us feel that. It was so atypical that you’ve not felt yours before. Welcome to the club!” Listening to that was such a relief and is a very vivid memory.

Previously, you were a research fellow at the National Center of Culture in Portugal and the Brazilian National Library. Could you please tell us what you have studied during your fellowship in both countries?

After my PhD, I focused on another topic that articulates citizenship and discourse: immigration, which is studied more frequently by political or economic approaches. I have analysed how Portuguese citizens faced immigration in Brazil based on two sources: interviews with 20 immigrants in seven cities (Centro Nacional de Cultura’s project) and books of 11 Portuguese writers since the 19th century, among whom Ferreira de Castro, Miguel Torga, and Ruth Escobar (at the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional).

During your research visit at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy (AHCD), which project you are working on?

My research at the AHCD discusses the imaginary of social policy in Brazil and South Africa, and these cases are the same as those of a collective project led by Professor Graziella Moraes Silva about perceptions of redistribution in these unequal democracies, with which I have been collaborating these months. In my research, I focus on governmental discourse, as I did in my dissertation. I argue that paying attention to public interpretations of these issues is relevant since they seek to guide popular perceptions, and this imaginary has material effects in reality.


Other than that project, what are your ongoing projects or scholarly pieces?
I have just finished an article about the anticorruption discourse of Operation Car Wash, written with Joris Thijm (University of Lisbon). We used dozens of press interviews, opinion articles, and books of prosecutors and judges to analyse how the authorities involved in the largest anticorruption probe since the Italian Mani Pulite scandals framed corruption. In addition, in 2022, I will publish an essay in a book series about music albums (the Brazilian version of the Anglophone 33⅓ book series). Paralamas do Sucesso: Selvagem? (Cobogó) focuses on a Brazilian rock band’s bestselling album and comes from my research on the documentary value of rock songs of the 1980–90s, which led to works such as my book Brasil: Cazuza, Renato Russo e a transição democrática (Civilização Brasileira).

Among all your research interests, which of them do you consider to be your specialized “research” identity?

I have explored interfaces between citizenship and culture, focusing on issues such as democracy, inequality, and immigration. I search to balance this specialisation and openness to other topics. For example: while I was reading Portuguese literature to analyse how writers portrayed immigration in Brazil, I came across two female writers with so interesting perspectives of women’s social role that I could not avoid writing an article on that. Maybe this posture is a current part of my identity.

What have you read lately that has marked your academic discipline?

From Cultural Sociology, I liked most of the chapters of The Civil Sphere in Latin America, edited by Jeffrey Alexander and Carlo Tognato, discussing the culture of the civil sphere. It might be of interest to those who want to link interpretive categories and events, and its lessons go much beyond Latin America. Another discovery from my interdisciplinary research is Social Im/mobilities in Africa, a set of ethnographic studies edited by Joël Noret. Both are available at the Graduate Institute’s library.

Which academic articles or books would you like everybody to read?

I would mention A Manifesto for Social Progress: Ideas for a Better Society, a recent book edited by Marc Fleurbaey and five colleagues. Based on the findings of over 300 experts involved in the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP), it proposes changes in key institutions (e.g., markets and corporations) against inequality, intolerance, violence, and other risks and challenges. I also suggest Göran Therborn’s The Killing Fields of Inequality, a recent classic in inequality studies.

If you were to help a prospective doctoral student to formulate their research question, what would your recommendation be?

Besides usual answers such as affinity with the theme or familiarity with the methods, I would recommend choosing a question that dialogues with a project shared by their research group. As a PhD dissertation is a lonely challenge, at least most of the time, it may be more interesting when this research benefits a collective project and takes advantage of various internal exchanges.


Interview by Bugra Güngör, PhD candidate in International Relations and Political Science; editing by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.


*Banner photo taken on 11 November during the AHCD brown-bag seminar “From economics to politics and beyond”