Diffusion of Good Government

Social Sector Reforms in Brazil

Natasha Borges Sugiyama

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

One of the most fundamental questions for social scientists involves diffusion events; simply put, how do ideas spread and why do people embrace them? In Diffusion of Good Government: Social Sector Reforms in Brazil, Natasha Borges Sugiyama examines why innovations spread across political territories and what motivates politicians to adopt them.

Sugiyama does so from the vantage point of Brazilian politics, a home to innovative social sector reforms intended to provide the poor with access to state resources. Since the late 1980s, the country has undergone major policy transformations as local governments have gained political, fiscal, and administrative autonomy. For the poor and other vulnerable groups, local politics holds special importance: municipal authorities provide essential basic services necessary for their survival, including social assistance, education, and health care. Brazil, with over 5,000 municipalities with a wide variety of political cultures and degrees of poverty, thus provides ample opportunities to examine the spread of innovative programs to assist such groups.

Sugiyama delves into the politics of social sector reforms by examining the motivations for emulating well-regarded programs. To uncover the mechanisms of diffusion, her analysis contrasts three paradigmatic models for how individuals choose to allocate resources: by advancing political self-interest to gain electoral victories; by pursuing their ideological commitments for social justice; or by seeking to demonstrate adherence to the professional norms of their fields. Drawing on a mixed-method approach that includes extensive field research and statistical analysis on the spread of model programs in education (especially Bolsa Escola, a school grant program) and health (Programa Saúde da Família, a family health program), she concludes that ideological convictions and professional norms were the main reasons why mayors adopted these programs, with electoral incentives playing a negligible role.

Natasha Borges Sugiyama is assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“In Diffusion of Good Government: Social Sector Reforms in Brazil, Natasha Borges Sugiyama contributes significantly both to theoretical debates about diffusion and to important policy debates about the best ways to alleviate poverty, improve educational attainment, and increase access to health services in middle-income developing countries. Her substantial field research is coupled with strong quantitative analysis to deliver original interpretations important to scholars with an interest in public policy and Latin America.” — James W. McGuire, Wesleyan University

“This study investigates the motivations of politicians and technocrats behind the adoption of social policy reforms in Brazil. Natasha Borges Sugiyama argues that political self-interest in winning elections is not the motivating force. Rather, she claims that ideology in the form of commitments to providing better services and income transfers for the poor is a strong incentive, along with embeddedness in professional organizations or informal networks. Sugiyama’s work is both compelling and important. It will be of interest to political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, and scholars with an interest in public policy in Latin America.” — Evelyne Huber, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


“Sugiyama offers careful case studies of Bolsa Escola (educational grants) and Saúde da Família (family health promotion). . . . She confirms the pattern of interaction among the variables with quantitative analysis as well as detailed qualitative reporting. The study includes a rich review of policy diffusion theory.” — Choice

“Diffusion of Good Government fills an important gap in the literature and should be of great interest to Brazilian specialists and to development practitioners. . . . To the author’s great merit, she successfully challenges the assumptions about patronage, clientelism, and the politics that shape reform efforts in Brazil, and even more broadly, in the developing world.” — The Americas