From Structural to Symbolic Dimensions of State Autonomy: Brazil’s AIDS Treatment Program and Global Power Dynamics




Flynn, Matthew

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The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice


Theories of globalization debate the current role of the state in the contemporary world, specifically questioning how much autonomy or policy space the state has to enact policies considered to be in a country’s interest. The problem of state autonomy becomes more acute for developing countries attempting to construct or defend rights-based social programs in the face of powerful transnational corporations, foreign diplomatic pressures and new international government organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). A case study of the impact the Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property System (TRIPS) on Brazil’s universal AIDS treatment program is employed to assess the various theories of globalization and state autonomy. The study reveals that, although TRIPS represents a qualitative shift in power in favor of transnational companies, centralization of power at the global level can lead to the development of domestic coalitions in defense of national projects. More importantly, when contesting powerful adversaries, state actors may increase their leverage by projecting symbolic power to a global audience. The concept of reputational dividends is developed in this paper to emphasize that as nation-states become increasingly integrated into a global social system, the symbolic dimension of power becomes more salient in forging state autonomy.



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