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When is a Kickback Like Fulfilling a Vow to a Saint? “Popular” Religions, Dyadic Exchanges, and Corruption in Brazil*

Anthropological Enquiries into Policy, Debt, Business, and Capitalism

ISBN: 978-1-83909-659-4, eISBN: 978-1-83909-658-7

ISSN: 0190-1281

Publication date: 9 June 2020

Abstract

The second decade of the twenty-first century finds Brazil racked by a series of scandals that are extreme even by world standards. This chapter presents an explanation for one of the behaviors that have produced these scandals. Specifically, it is the offering of bribes to public officials by individuals or companies that stand to benefit from contracts to perform public services and, furthermore, the paying of kickbacks to the officials if the contract is awarded. I liken this behavior to the making of vows to the saints in the “popular” or “folk” form of Catholicism – and other popular religions that accept its basic premises – and the fulfillment of the promise if and when the otherworldly being provides what the petitioner requested. Part 1 of the chapter examines an election for mayor of the city of Fortaleza in 2012 in which the office was “bought” for what seemed to be an exorbitant amount of money. I hypothesize that this is to be explained by the anticipation of the city receiving government contracts to build a soccer stadium, a rail system, and other projects related to the 2014 World Cup. In Part 2, I examine Brazil’s religions beginning with popular Catholicism, to show that the normative way of gaining something desired from a supernatural – be it the restoration of health or the recovery of a lost item – is to offer it something it values and then fulfilling the promise if and when the petitioner receives what was requested. I contend that this important religious pattern continues to provide the template for the secular behavior that is being judged to be corrupt by standards other than those found in the religiously based worldview of many Brazilians.

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Citation

Greenfield, S.M. (2020), "When is a Kickback Like Fulfilling a Vow to a Saint? “Popular” Religions, Dyadic Exchanges, and Corruption in Brazil*", Wood, D.C. (Ed.) Anthropological Enquiries into Policy, Debt, Business, and Capitalism (Research in Economic Anthropology, Vol. 40), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 193-217. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0190-128120200000040005

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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