The Vicious Cycle in the Bolsa Familia Program's Implementation: Discretionality and the Challenge of Social Rights Consolidation in Brazil

Flavio Eiro*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
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This article aims to consider conceptions of the Brazilian conditional cash transfer Bolsa Familia Program as elaborated by both those responsible for its implementation and its beneficiaries in Northeast Brazil. Most innovative in this study is the adoption of the program's municipal social workers, who are responsible for the implementation of the program, as the main observation point, by conceptualizing them as street-level bureaucrats. The research is based on ethnographic fieldwork that took place between 2013 and 2015, for a total of six months, combined with in-depth interviews with the program's beneficiaries in a middle-sized municipality of the State of Ceara. Social workers enjoy a range of discretion that directly affects the distribution of benefits. Their efforts to better apply what they see as scarce resources are embedded in their representations of poverty-separating "deserving" from "undeserving" poor-generating insecurity among beneficiaries. By doing so, beneficiaries' understanding of the program as a social right is compromised, which is reinforced by a fragile legal status enjoyed by the Bolsa Familia and ambiguous bureaucratic procedures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-409
Number of pages25
JournalQualitative sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep-2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Poverty
  • Street-level bureaucracy
  • Social work
  • Conditional cash transfer
  • Northeast Brazil
  • PERU

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