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Research

MIT/IDG Projects in Brazil
Professor Judith Tendler

Over a period of 15 years, Professor Tendler has run five projects (1992-2007) that have combined teaching with field research in Brazil.  These projects received two MIT-wide awards–the Irwin Sizer Award and the Class-of-1960 Award and a research chair for outstanding achievement in combining field research with graduate education. 

In each of the first four projects, Tendler trained and supervised a team of IDG graduate students, who spent the three summer months and/or the January intersession month in Northeast Brazil, a poor region of nine states and 45 million people, doing field work for their Master's and Ph.D. theses.  Three of the projects were funded by two Brazilian state governments (Ceará and Maranhão), and the fourth project was funded by the Brazilian Northeast Regional Development Bank.  The fifth and current project, “The Rule of Law, Economic Development, and the Modernization of the State in Brazil,” is funded by the Brazil offices of the World Bank and the U.K.’s DFID (Department of International Development).

The first project looked at several cases of successful public programs and tried to understand the causes of their success and the lessons for policy; the second project looked at various experiences in rural economic development, with similar purposes, and the third did the same in another state. The fourth project examines four sectors important in generating employment (garments, textiles, shoes, fruit exports) in the regional economy-which has been faced with the competitive pressures of globalization. It looked into the role of policy and public institutions in determining which sectors and/or firms fared better, which kinds of development had greater spillover effects and why, and the conditions under which growth was income-distributing rather than income-concentrating and workers fared better rather than worse. The project looked at the circumstances under which public support and interaction at the local and regional level make a difference.  The current project, involving doctoral students and a Master’s student, looks across a set of cases of generic conflicts that were resolved, unusually, without the usual expected tradeoffs–that is, without the zero- or negative-sum outcomes.  She has chosen the classic conflicts in developing countries between workers (or their associations) and firms, between infrastructure development (and “economic development” more broadly) and environmental concerns and groups, and between various subsectors along the supply chain (input suppliers vs. their clients). These conflicts are usually expected to require imposing major costs on one side or the other–an expectation that in itself contributes to stalemate.  For this reason, it is important to learn lessons to be learned about policy and practice from a set of cases that did not impose such costs.

In total, the projects have generated more than 35 graduate-student theses, doctoral papers, and dissertations.  Recent publications by Tendler based partly on these projects are: Good Government in the Tropics, “Why are social funds so popular?”, “Small firms, the informal sector, and the Devil’s Deal,” “Why social policy is condemned to a residual category of safety nets and what to do about it,” and “Undoing the poverty agenda and putting it back together: economic development, social policy, or what?”  Monographs (articles in progress) are: “The Fear of Education,” “The Economic Wars Between the States: Lessons from Brazil and the U.S. South,” and “The Transformation of Local Economies: Lessons from Northeast Brazil.”  (See c.v. for complete citations; electronic copies available from Phil Sunde–psunde@mit.edu.)