Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Between Autonomy and Dependency: The Place of Agency in Brazilian Foreign Policy*

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Between Autonomy and Dependency: The Place of Agency in Brazilian Foreign Policy*

Article excerpt

In Latin American academia the concept of autonomy has been used in diverse ways and become an important tool for political analysis in the region, particularly since the 1970s. As a result, there are internal and international dimensions - for the designation of behaviour as autonomist and several foreign policy strategies have been adopted for attaining such a condition.

Within this large and diverse literature, there have been numerous reflections on different experiences within the region that embody examples of autonomist foreign policy (COLACRAI, 2009; HURRELL, 2013; LIGIERO, 2011; MEZA, 2013; PAUTASSO and ADAM, 2014; PINHEIRO, 2004; SANTANA and BUSTAMANTE, 2013; SARAIVA, 2010; SPEKTOR, 2014. On the other hand, others question the usefulness of this concept for thinking about foreign policy in the region in a post-Cold War world (SARAIVA, 2014a) that is so different from the one in which the concept emerged.

This article does not offer a comprehensive review of all these definitions and characteristics. Rather, our objectives are to critically assess the construction of the concept in the Latin American context, and in Brazil in particular and to question whether it is still possible to use the concept with regard to Brazilian foreign policy, in light of how it was originally formulated. Whilst we recognise the value of the many attempts that have been made at redefining the concept, we do not agree that its meaning should be constantly adapted in line with whatever is the predominant action framework of a given historic moment (SANTANA and BUSTAMANTE, 2013). The assumption that "autonomy is a political concept, an instrument safeguarding against the most harmful effects of the international system" (VIGEVANI and CEPALUNI, 2011, p. 28), with its strong normative bias, can result in conceptual stretch that would include under the banner of autonomy-seeking any official or unofficial activity of this kind. It is one thing to admit that "expressions of what autonomy actually is (...) vary according to interests and power positions" (FONSECA JR, 1998, p. 361), another is to claim that each of these expressions is equivalent, in the final analysis, to the concept itself. In our view, this a la carte interpretation of the concept sacrifices all the rigour embodied in its original construction.

As Lorenzini and Doval (2013) have already noted, it is necessary to

...contextualise interpretations of autonomy so as not to denaturalise the meanings and connotations that, originally, the authors assigned to them. If we ideologise concepts, they lose much of their validity and explanatory value. In other words, the theory [sic] of autonomy should notbe turned into an ideology through which one tries to justify courses of action that have nothing to do with the original meaning that the authors gave to the term (LORENZINI and DOVAL, 2013, p. 16)1.

As such, however appropriate academic engagement with politically relevant debates may be, it is essential that such engagement does not compromise the analytical rigour of its interpretations of reality (VIGEVANI and CEPALUNI, 2011, p. 34).

Furthermore, while we concede that there are national particularities in the formulation of the concept (SARAIVA, 2014b), we do not share the belief that these national particularities can be part of the explanation for why, to take the example of Brazil, foreign policy exhibits an almost perennial aspiration for autonomy (SPEKTOR, 2014) by whatever strategy, without ever distorting the original meaning of the concept.

In methodological terms, our reflections are based on principles drawn from two strands of intellectual history (although these are not fully embedded in the field): the linguistic contextualism of Quentin Skinner (1988), and Reinhart Koselleck's (1992) history of concepts. Without going so far as to propose "that it is only possible to understand the meaning of any given text, or even of an utterance or idea by 'recovering' the intentions of the author in the act of writing and by 'rebuilding' the context of the linguistic conventions available at a given historical time" (JASMIN, 2005, pp. …

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