1st Edition

Brazilian Elites and their Philanthropy Wealth at the Service of Development

By Jessica Sklair Copyright 2022
    208 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    208 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book explores the philanthropy of Brazilian elites during a key period in recent Brazilian history, from Workers Party president Lula’s last term in office through to the election of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

    Against this backdrop of political upheaval, the book asks what philanthropy can reveal about the role of corporate and wealth elites in upholding the structures of socioeconomic inequality that continue to define Brazilian society. The book argues that around the world the private sector’s growing engagement in international development has led to the emergence of a global philanthropic project centred on practices of "philanthrocapitalism" and "social finance," which ultimately seeks to legitimise global capitalism and the elite interests it serves. Drawing on an in-depth and wide-ranging ethnographic study among philanthropists and their advisors in over 30 Brazilian foundations and intermediary organisations, the book combines a structural critique of the capitalist ideologies underlying philanthropic practice with a robust exploration into the ways in which wealthy Brazilians appropriate philanthropy directly to legitimise elite reproduction and the accumulation of wealth.

    Researchers across Latin American studies, development studies and the anthropology of development will find this book a timely contribution to the under-researched areas of elite studies and the study of philanthropy.

    List of Abbreviations


    Preface and Acknowledgements

    Introduction: The Many Stories of Brazilian Philanthropy

    Chapter 1: The Brazilian Philanthropy Sector: Locating an Elite Practice

    Chapter 2: Ways of Giving and Ways of Being Wealthy: Philanthropy and Elite Identity

    Chapter 3: "Social Responsibility is in our DNA": Historical Narratives in a Brazilian Family Business

    Chapter 4: Investimento Social Privado and Philanthrocapitalism: The Contours of Brazilian Philanthropy

    Chapter 5: Incorporating the Entrepreneurial Poor: The Strategies of Brazilian Philanthropy

    Chapter 6: Transforming Philanthropists and their Practice: The Work of Intermediaries

    Chapter 7: Ten Years On and a Path Divided: Impact Investing, Grantmaking and the Future of Philanthropy

    Conclusion: Philanthropy, Development and the Reproduction of the Wealth Elite









    Jessica Sklair is Research Fellow at the Margaret Anstee Centre for Global Studies, Newnham College, University of Cambridge, UK.

    "As Jessica Sklair brilliantly demonstrates in this outstanding book, using ethnographic research to gain a deeper understanding of what elite families are about and exploring the impact of their philanthropy on society through a searching political-economic critique of their world-making should not be seen as "either-or" projects. Her exploration of Brazilian philanthropy through different generations is a model of how to remain respectful of individual research subjects and diversity in the ways that they seek to address what they themselves may perceive as dilemmas without ignoring the more general blind spots and contradictions of elite world views, revealed in an ethnography that is superbly contextualized in terms of national and international developments. The study of the evolving philanthropy sector is complete, including family wealth and succession management and the growing role of intermediary organizations. Thanks to long-term fieldwork, it is also up to date in its analysis of the changing relationships between family foundations and civil society organizations and turns towards grant-making in place of direct project management. Sklair’s analysis reveals the limits of Brazilian philanthropy’s horizons in terms of support for more radical structural changes in one of the world’s most unequal societies, exploring examples of movements that are and are not found acceptable for support. Her deep knowledge of Brazil, and frequent use of important Brazilian studies published in Portuguese for contextualization, makes this book rewarding to Brazilianists and non-Brazilianists alike. I strongly recommend it to non-Brazilianists because it makes a truly significant case study contribution in both methodological and theoretical terms to comparative analysis of the central role now played in international development by a philanthropy that sees no contradiction between "doing good" and generating profit, conscripting even the poorest into the process of financialization and the ideological tenets of neoliberal market society."

    John Gledhill, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, UK

    "This is a terrific book. Grounded in ethnography but always connecting into the biggest issues facing society, Jessica Sklair shows how elite giving fails to break down privilege or combat inequality. A must-read for anyone interested in philanthropy."

    Michael Edwards, Writer and Activist

    "This is a fascinating book. It looks at the place of philanthropy in Brazil, one of the most unequal countries of the world, and analyzes the role of the elites that practice it in maintaining the status quo. Based on a careful and detailed ethnography, Jessica Sklair shows how the concept of ‘philanthrocapitalism’ has pervaded the mentality of corporate Brazilian elites. This brings about an ideology that the private sector is more efficient than the State in defining and managing projects for the poor. By allying themselves with the idea of philanthropy for profit, Brazilian elites mirror the strategy of richer societies and at the same time legitimize the accumulation and concentration of capital in their own country. Brazilian elites and their philanthropy is a book that must be read by all of those who want to understand modern Brazil and its contradictions."

    Ruben Oliven, Professor of Anthropology, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

    "Sklair’s beautifully written, incisive book makes original points about family dynasties, perceptions of sacrifice, and morality in both the home and public sphere. An important study of philanthropy, inequality and family ties."

    Professor Linsey McGoey, University of Essex and author of No Such Thing as a Free Gift

    "The political power of philanthropy to purify dynastic accumulation and accrue moral capital and status has long occupied a role in the social and historical imagination of capitalism since long before the term ‘philanthro-capitalism’ was coined. Here, for the first time, Jessica Sklair opens up the inner workings and practices of philanthrocapitalism in the Global South to view, capturing both its fundamental role in sustaining elite power and its influence in driving development agendas to the interests of the giver. Through a rich and compelling anthropological study, Sklair weaves together the intimate politics of dynastic families with the global politics of development in a bold interrogation of how Brazil’s super wealthy give, the social struggles surrounding practices of philanthropy and the political currency it affords them to determine the course of development."  

    Dr Dinah Rajak, Reader in Anthropology and Development, University of Sussex