Beyond Bureaucracy: How Prosecutors and Public Defenders Enforce Urban Planning Laws in São Paulo, Brazil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Cities need law to thrive, but it is not clear how abstract texts become tangible policy outcomes. Existing research on the role of law in urban affairs conceives law as either an algorithm that shapes urban life or a reflection of political disputes. The former assumes that the meaning of law is obvious; the latter claims it is irrelevant. In contrast to these views, I argue that laws are multipurpose instruments that acquire a specific function when enforced by those government agents who operate at the frontlines of public service. To understand what these agents do and why, I conducted a qualitative study of the Ministério Público and the Defensoria Pública in São Paulo, Brazil. Through this process, I found that these government agencies are not cohesive bureaucracies but heterarchies composed of distinct internal factions with different evaluative principles. Moreover, officials within them are not isolated from other entities in society but tightly entangled with them, and these connections influence what these officials do. Finally, enforcement agents are not always resigned to solving conflicts as they arise. Rather, they strive to find acceptable solutions in the interstices of existing conditions or even change the circumstances that created the conflict in the first place.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1103-1119
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Volume39
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015

Fingerprint

bureaucracy
urban planning
Brazil
Law
public service
faction
government agency
conflict
public
planning law
need
city
enforcement
society
policy

Keywords

  • Brazil
  • Law-inUrban conflictsaction
  • São Paulo
  • Urban conflicts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies

Cite this

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abstract = "Cities need law to thrive, but it is not clear how abstract texts become tangible policy outcomes. Existing research on the role of law in urban affairs conceives law as either an algorithm that shapes urban life or a reflection of political disputes. The former assumes that the meaning of law is obvious; the latter claims it is irrelevant. In contrast to these views, I argue that laws are multipurpose instruments that acquire a specific function when enforced by those government agents who operate at the frontlines of public service. To understand what these agents do and why, I conducted a qualitative study of the Minist{\'e}rio P{\'u}blico and the Defensoria P{\'u}blica in S{\~a}o Paulo, Brazil. Through this process, I found that these government agencies are not cohesive bureaucracies but heterarchies composed of distinct internal factions with different evaluative principles. Moreover, officials within them are not isolated from other entities in society but tightly entangled with them, and these connections influence what these officials do. Finally, enforcement agents are not always resigned to solving conflicts as they arise. Rather, they strive to find acceptable solutions in the interstices of existing conditions or even change the circumstances that created the conflict in the first place.",
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