The Politics of Visibility: How Local Elections Undermine Representation in Brazil


Tuesday, March 5, 2019, 12:00pm to 2:00pm


CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street

TS-Peter Johannessen

Speaker: Peter Johannessen, Postdoctoral Fellow, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School

Moderator: Steven Levitsky, Professor of Government, Harvard University

Brazil has made impressive gains in expanding access to public services over the past two decades, but citizens continue to be dissatisfied with the quality of those services – an anger that culminated in a destabilizing wave of protests in 2013. In this talk, I will explore how Brazil’s unique combination of political, fiscal, and administrative decentralization has contributed to the poor quality of public services in the country. Specifically, I will demonstrate that citizens have unwittingly pushed mayors to prioritize highly visible infrastructure projects at the expense of less visible – but potentially more effective – policies.

Peter Johannessen is a postdoctoral fellow with the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School. His research explores how popular participation shapes the local policy-making process. Through his work, he engages with broader debates about democratic representation and the consequences of decentralization reforms. He has an article forthcoming at Comparative Political Studies and was recently awarded the 2018 Susan Clarke Young Scholars' Award from the APSA Urban and Local Politics Section. Peter received his PhD in Politics and Social Policy from Princeton University. Prior to joining HKS, he was a Visiting Fellow with the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Next fall, he will start as an Assistant Professor of Public Policy with the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.