Discourses about Corruption in Contemporary Brazil: Comparing Legislators, Prosecutors and the Accused

Mr. Mario Luis Grangeia
Mr. Joris Alberdingk Thijm

How are corruption scandals framed by authorities and defendants? Have the discourses used by legislators, prosecutors and those implicated in corruption scandals changed over time, and if so, in which respects? A frame analysis of discourse used by parliamentarians, public prosecutors, and those accused of corruption in Brazil during the 2010s allows us to identify and evaluate the dispute about the meaning of corruption in a country which has experienced a number of high profile corruption scandals during its recent history. The fact that these scandals have coincided with a deep economic recession since 2014 may have impacted not only the public's perception of corruption and support for democracy, as a growing literature suggests, but could also have an effect on the narratives employed by the aforementioned political actors. The Brazilian public debate around corruption has, over the past five years, been deeply influenced by Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato), the world’s largest anti-corruption probe since Italy’s Mani Pulite. In order to assess these questions, this paper employs a frame analysis of a representative group of interviews and opinion articles that have appeared in Brazilian national newspapers, as well as parliamentary debates, taking the 2010s as its period of interest. The debates this paper focuses on include the public debate about the Anti-Corruption Act 2013, as well as the legislative debate on the Ten Measures Against Corruption (a campaign conducted by federal prosecutors and social movements to pressure parliamentarians to change anti-corruption legislation). In analyzing the discourses, we borrow the concept of frames from the field of Cultural Sociology. Studying how corruption scandals are framed by legislators, federal prosecutors and those implicated in the scandals can shed light on the meanings attributed to these scandals, and allow us to examine the differences and similarities between these meanings.