On the Pulse: Explorations in the Social Sciences

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On the Pulse : Explorations in the Social Sciences

We are excited to invite you to a program of talks and Q&As showcasing innovative and interdisciplinary research in the social sciences hosted by Associate Professor Mary Zournazi.

“Radical Right Populism and the Politics of Cruelty: The Case of COVID-19 in Brazil Under President Bolsonaro”

In this paper, we explore cruelty under populism, focusing on radical right populism. We develop our argument by introducing a two-dimensional model of cruel behaviour in politics, in which cruelty is conceptualized as a dependent variable defined in terms of empathy (how the leader addresses those who suffer) and action (how the leader acts to alleviate suffering). This framework provides a nuanced understanding of how cruelty and populism connect, providing an original and cutting-edge contribution to both bodies of work. We use our two-dimensional model of cruel behaviour to shed light on the different ways radical right populists (RRP) embrace cruelty as part of their political strategies. We have come to three “ideal” types of RRP cruel behaviour: downplaying, blaming, and conspiring. In order to advance our ideas, we rely on the qualitative analysis of Brazil’s far-right populist President Jair Bolsonaro and his (in)actions regarding COVID-19, who once asked about the soaring number of dead from COVID-19 simply answered: “So what? What do you want me to do?.” Using this case study, we empirically illustrate different ways in which how cruelty can manifest itself in practice and what real-life consequences it can have.


Deborah Barros Leal Farias is a Brazilian-born Senior Lecturer at UNSW Sydney’s School of Social Sciences, where she teaches Politics and International Relations. She has a multidisciplinary background: PhD in Political Science from UBC (Canada), as well as an MA in International Relations, and bachelor degrees in Economy and in Law from Brazilian institutions. Her current main areas of interest involve international organizations, Brazilian politics, and populism


5 September 2022
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm AEST
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