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Silva-Muller, L., & Sposito, H. (2023). Which Amazon Problem? Problem-constructions and Transnationalism in Brazilian Presidential Discourse since 1985. Environmental Politics, 0(0), 1–24.


[Link to article]

* Awarded Best Paper in Amazonian Studies at the Latin American Studies Association

The Amazon is a complex object of policy that comprises environmental, economic, social, and sovereignty concerns. Despite this complexity, governments are often portrayed as having a single understanding of the region as a political problem. In this article, we investigate how the Amazon has been constructed as a problem in 6240 Brazilian presidential speeches since 1985 using supervised machine learning. Conceptually, we develop a framework that accounts for how important transnational actors, such as presidents, construct objects of policy as particular problems depending on where and when they participate in politics. Empirically, we find that presidents often construct the Amazon as an environmental problem when speaking far away from the region, whereas they usually construct it as problems of economic integration or social development when speaking in the Amazon. Furthermore, presidents increasingly mix problem-constructions to represent the Amazon as a complex and multifaceted object of policy.

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Silva-Muller, L., (2022). Payment for ecosystem services and the practices of environmental fieldworkers in policy implementation: The case of Bolsa Floresta in the Brazilian Amazon. Land Use Policy, 120, p.106251.

[Link to article]

In payment for ecosystem services (PES) models, participants receive payments for conditionally securing the provision of ecosystem services. Nevertheless, various constraints and complex local contexts, common in real-world PES schemes, impede a perfect implementation of the model. I examine how fieldworkers implement PES given financial and monitoring constraints, using the case of the Bolsa Floresta program in the Brazilian Amazon, a policy instrument that pays 50 Brazilian Reais to participating families if they do not deforest primary forests. Building on in-depth interviews and participant observation, I argue that fieldworkers’ actions reveal deviations between PES theory and practice. They use their discretion at the local level to (1) adopt discursive practices that underemphasize the economic component of Bolsa Floresta and complement it with a pedagogical element, and (2) adopt trust-building practices based on organizational routines and boundary-making vis-à-vis command-and-control authorities. This deviation from PES theory implies that different policy instruments require different levels of trust depending on their coerciveness. My fieldworker-oriented approach complements PES scholarship by tying environmental fieldworkers’ routines and practices at the implementation level to strategies to address some common limitations of PES schemes.

Silva-Muller, L., & Faul, M. (2022) “Protecting the Amazon and its people: the role of civil society in the local effectiveness of transnational partnerships”. In Partnerships for Sustainability: Pathways to Effectiveness. Edt. by Andonova, L., Faul, M. and Piselli, D. Routledge: London

[Link to chapter]

The literature has effectively documented what transnational partnerships are and why they emerge; why and how design matters; and how they vary across issue areas, functions, and participation. What remains under-studied is how partnership complexes unfold on the ground.  This chapter addresses this gap by examining efforts to halt deforestation in a protected area in the Brazilian Amazon with multiple, partially overlapping partnerships that span transnational, federal, state, and local levels. We rely on in-depth interviews, participant observation, and documentary analysis to demonstrate how civil society organizations (CSOs) are key actors in making increasingly complex partnerships effective. First, CSOs seek to fill funding gaps by instigating and brokering new partnerships. Second, CSOs tend to be the only actors that do both horizontal coordination — with municipalities, police, and communities within protected areas— as well as vertical coordination — with the state and federal level governments and international actors

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