When Time Matters: Federal Changes, Temporality and Recentralization in Brazil

Helder Ferreira do Vale*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much of the scholarly work on Brazilian federalism has long focused on the ways in which decentralization has produced institutional paralysis under intergovernmental conflict. This article, by contrast, suggests that Brazil has been under a gradual transformation since its democratization, which led to a recentralization of power in the hands of the federal government. It presents a framework that explains how an initial decentralization process (1983-1994) turned into a centralization process (1995-2007) that ultimately increased the regulatory and coordination powers of the Brazilian federal government. In addition, the analysis shows that two main blocs of political parties competed to influence the sequence and speed of legislation related to the decentralization and centralization processes. Specifically, these parties used two competing temporal strategies - foot-dragging and pace-setting - to slow down or accelerate the approval of legislation regulating subnational autonomy. Once the centralizing bloc of parties enacted key centralizing legislation, they used the strategy of fence-building to institutionalize intergovernmental relations, thereby consolidating the coordination powers of the center. The main contribution of this article is to advance a temporal approach to federal changes, which explains how the Brazilian federal government centralized authority under a decentralizing Constitution.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere20200216
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Centralization
  • Decentralization
  • Federalism
  • Intergovernmental relations
  • Subnational autonomy
  • Temporality


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