IGPA Research Seminar Series

Avoiding Governors: Federalism, Democracy, and Poverty Alleviation in Brazil and Argentina

Thu 1 September 2016Dr Tracy Beck Fenwick / 3:30pm - 5:00pmSeminar Room 2, Building 24, University of Canberra


This month’s IGPA Research Seminar Series is presented by Dr Tracy Beck Fenwick who will discuss her new book, Avoiding Governors: Federalism, Democracy, and Poverty Alleviation in Brazil and Argentina (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press).

With varying levels of success, CCTs, which are now considered to be the hegemonic policy instrument designed to alleviate poverty and invest socially in the developing world, transformed municipalities into becoming the prime agents of national governments in this politically strategic and socially important policy area. Within Latin America’s stronger federal systems, they contribute to an emerging governing strategy to “avoid governors”. The main contribution of this book is to highlight the political and institutional conditions that facilitate the performance and sustainability of CCTs as part of a social investment strategy. Specifically using the strategy of a paired comparison of Brazil and Argentina, this book concerns itself with how CCTs can increase the participation of municipalities in both national politics and social expenditure, enabling the federal government to successfully implement national social policy objectives. In Brazil, the central hypothesis is that multi-level federalism and the institutional feasibility of direct national-local collaboration cemented Bolsa Familia’s success as both an international policy instrument, and secured its national success and implementation in over 5,500 localities. In Argentina, the central hypothesis is that the politics of governors and federalism is so strong that although Plan Familias attempted to bypass the governors, it is difficult for national social programs in this federation to be a) directly implemented at the local level and b) to be effectively implemented without governor intermediation—impeding both the feasibility of a national social investment agenda, and the equalization of citizen access to social services and rights.

A key finding is that broader institutional, structural, and political variables are more important in institutionalizing CCTs, than the technical design of the programs (the dimension privileged in most international policy prescriptions). This book highlights a contrast between these two federal cases. Contrary to the mainstream interpretations of Brazilian politics and institutions, it shows that in this country federal arrangements have contributed to the relative success of its efforts to implement a CCT program designed to both reduce intermediate poverty and decrease its inter-generational transmission. Brazil’s CCT model is considered a successful policy model which is now being exported throughout the developing world. The book probes the contrast with Argentina, where the institutional conditions and the political and fiscal incentives for intergovernmental policy-based cooperation have not been adequate, at least this far, to consolidate a national social investment strategy based on CCTs that de facto must include subnational levels of government. Beyond the two cases the study aims to deepen the analyses of multi-level governance in federal Latin America and elsewhere, and to clarify the domestic factors facilitating the effective delivery of targeted social benefits.


Tracy Beck Fenwick is the Director of the Australian Centre for Federalism and a lecturer of political science in the School of Politics and International Relations, College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU. She was previously a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan. She completed her doctorate specializing in Comparative Politics at the University of Oxford, U.K. in 2009 (St. Anthony's College). She holds a Master of Arts in Comparative Politics, and a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies and Economics from McGill University, Montreal Canada. She recently published in 2016 her first full-length monograph, “Avoiding Governors: Federalism, Democracy, and Poverty Alleviation in Brazil and Argentina” in the Helen Kellogg Series of Democracy and Development, University of Notre Dame (Indiana). Other research was also recently published in Global Social Policy (2013), the Journal of Politics in Latin America (2010), and in the Latin American Research Review (2009). Tracy has been a visiting researcher at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), the Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA), and at the Fundacão Getúlio Vargas (FGV-SP). Her research suggests that municipalities and local governments ought to matter for achieving national policy objectives, particularly in the areas of social welfare and social policy. When it comes to investing socially, federal governments cannot go it alone. Tracy is an active member of the RC19, ISA research group, the RC28 IPSA research group on Comparative Federalism and Multilevel Governance, the Latin American Studies Association, Canadian Political Science Association, the International Association of Federal Studies Centres, and is an editorial board member of Global Social Policy.

This event is free to attend and no registration is required. You are welcome to forward this invitation to any interested guests.

The IGPA Research Seminar Series is convened by Dr Paul Fawcett.

Back to IGPA Research Seminar Series