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Moral panic and human rights: the experience of the so-called humanization policy in São Paulo

Grant number: 17/25438-0
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate
Effective date (Start): January 01, 2018
Effective date (End): February 28, 2022
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Sociology
Principal Investigator:Marcos César Alvarez
Grantee:Gustavo Lucas Higa
Host Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated research grant:13/07923-7 - Center of the Study of Violence - NEV/USP, AP.CEPID
Associated scholarship(s):21/07225-4 - Hunting and crusades: reflections on moral panic and human rights between Brazil and United Kingdom, BE.EP.DR


In 1980 the Brazilian political system underwent changes due to the moment of democratic transition in the country. Prison and the police, social control mechanisms that largely served as the main support for the actions of the military regime, were on the agenda of reforms that sought to place these institutions in the future democracy, aiming to dismantle the tradition of arbitrariness, governmental mismanagement and the lack of guarantee of rights in these spaces. It was during this period that we tried to apply the so-called humanization policies.This political agenda became a reference for the government of Franco Montoro and a symbol for the transition in São Paulo, which sought to consolidate democracy and respect for human rights. Such positioning and political practice suffered many resistance. The dispute over human rights was not only in the legislative and judicial blocs, but also in the debate on the so-called public opinion, stimulated by information published by newspapers, radio and intellectuals.I intend to note the resistance and formation of an opposition discourse on these policies. This conception of rights would have been attacked and delegitimized through a political dispute, having as backdrop and form, the moral panic. To that end, the main tendencies used would have been to deny the humanity of the "bandits", to hold redemocratization accountable for the crisis in the public security system and to refer to humanization policies as an attack on moral values and inversion of them, associating them with "privilege of bandits". The resistance made the reform movement fall back considerably. On the one hand the pro-human rights discourse (more relative and complex) lost space and popular support; in contrast, the anti-human rights discourse (more popular and populist) intensified and gained support in the following years. The present research works more from the point of view of a kind of archeology of a discourse on human rights, that is, to analyze its possibilities, how it arrived at the public sphere, how it was spoken on the question, according to which opportunities, through which which movements and orienting what effects in the leading instances of the State and the formation of a conception about the theme.This discourse on crime and rights crossed different places of speech and somehow connected them - just like a needle passing through different tissues, linking them through the wire attached to it, forming a mesh of meanings that guide the social life, whether by means of expectations and/or actions. What were the conditions for such a discourse to emerge and become part of the universe of possibilities of the citizen and government? How did this move take place? The present research is inserted in the Sociology of punishment, having as a tool of analysis a Sociology of rumor and discursive practices. Therefore, the main references will be the works of Michel Foucault and Stanley Cohen. I will analyze this conjuncture sociologically using moral panic and discursive practices. My contribution is justified by this experience as a valuable empirical material whose study can elucidate contemporary issues, such as the obstacles still present when human rights policies, democratization in relations established within prisons, military corporations and in the form as the discourse of public insecurity is conceived and exploited both by the media and by the so-called public opinion, even today. (AU)

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