Abstract: By the early twentieth century, the state of São Paulo had emerged as Brazil’s most powerful region, both economically and politically. This rapid shift in São Paulo’s standing within the Brazilian union generated a narrative of regional exceptionalism that celebrated São Paulo’s proclivity for progress and contrasted it with the stagnant and disorderly Nordeste. When Getúlio Vargas seized power in 1930 and formed a regime intent on reining in São Paulo’s political influence, regional resentment culminated in a short-lived armed conflict, in 1932, between that state and the federal government. Although São Paulo lost the war in less than three months, the memory of the 1932 uprising became a key reference for regional resentment and for exceptionalist claims by paulistas (residents of São Paulo state), which were couched in the language of regional hierarchies and rested on notions of racial superiority. Such language could also be heard in the right-wing demonstrations that preceded the military seizure of power in 1964, and would be audible once again in the anti-Workers’ Party (PT) protests leading up to the most recent presidential elections, characterized by an electoral map that reveals sharp regional splits in political allegiance, with São Paulo and other southern states going heavily for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro while the Nordeste remains the stronghold of the left-leaning PT, a pattern that first emerged in the 2006 elections.
In this talk I will place the ongoing discourse of São Paulo’s exceptionalism in a larger global framework, and discuss similar manifestations of racialized regional resentment in places as apparently distinct as northern Italy and lowland Bolivia. I will also consider how different narratives of modernization and development circulating transnationally have served to bolster or challenge paulista claims of exceptionalism.
This talk is part of the Brazilian Regionalism in a Global Context Workshop.