The Worker’s Party, from Contention to Public Action: A Case of Institutionalization

Camille Goirand


The Worker’s Party (PT) was created in 1980 during the liberalization of authoritarian rule in Brazil, in the context of contentious mobilizations, which were especially strong in the union sector in São Paulo. The PT then attracted increasing support at the polls and won a number of local executives before winning the federal presidency in 2002; this process has often been labeled as “institutionalization”. This paper defines the notion of institutionalization and proposes an approach for observing institutionalization processes at the grass roots of party organization. The paper then analyzes the PT’s transformation at the national level, whereby it became a majority, consolidated its organization, and moderated its ideological discourses. We also analyze the social components of the institutionalization of the PT. Based on the case of rank-and-file PT members in Recife, we show that this process included upward social mobility for local party leadership, included party leaders as professionals in the political arena, and created a growing distance between the party organization and the contentious space.

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