The postneoliberal fabulation of power

On statecraft, precarious infrastructures, and public mobilization in Brazil

by João Biehl

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In Brazil's hybrid government of social protection and market expansion, there is under way a fabulation of power, which ultimately serves to “de-poor” people seeking care, working infrastructures, and justice while also shoring up state politics as usual. This process became evident through the failure of a collaborative research project that I coordinated on right-to-health litigation. In rethinking that failure as an experiment in public ethnography, I draw on core disagreements with public officials over the interpretation of our findings from a legal database. Analyzing these disagreements provides an entry point into the mechanisms of veridiction and falsification at work in Brazil, whose government sees itself as providing public goods beyond the minimum neoliberal state. Countering state mythology, public ethnography thus illuminates the improvised quality of postneoliberal democratic institutions and opens up new avenues for theorizing power and the political field.