In search of a lost treasure: cultural mapping studies in the field of Political Science and IR in Brazil – interview with Túlio Ferreira and Vanessa Lira, by Solène Marié

Culture is a theme which, within the field of International Relations, has traditionally held a peripheral position but has received growing interest since the Cultural Turn. Nonetheless, its multifaceted nature and the difficulty to isolate cultural factors from other elements make it a concept which is difficult to define and to operationalize.

In the article “In search of a lost treasure: cultural mapping studies in the field of political science and international relations in Brazil” published in RBPI (Vol. 62, n. 1 – 2019), Túlio Sérgio Henriques Ferreira and Vanessa Horácio Lira investigate how culture-related subjects have been studied in Brazilian academia within the fields of political science and international relations (PSIR) from 1990 to 2017. Based on a systematic literature review of articles on the subject published in journals rated A1 to B2 (Qualis 2013-2016 quadrennial ranking), they present a mapping of the production on the subject and a detailed analysis of its characteristics.

The authors were interviewed by Solène Marié, PhD Candidate in International Relations at Universidade de Brasília.

Your article presents interesting data regarding journals in which articles on culture-related subjects are published: 67.8% of the articles can be found in 6 of the 25 journals whilst 6 others have not published any articles on the topic since 1990. The first group of journals are all multi or interdisciplinary whilst the second group of articles are all related to a specific discipline (most of them to International Relations). What would be your opinion on a possible link between an interdisciplinary approach and the absence of publications on culture-related subjects?

Culture is a theme which is common to several areas of the social and human sciences, a fact that means this agenda was developed from different perspectives. More classical disciplines such as Sociology and Anthropology tend to concentrate most of the studies possibly because of their epistemological and methodological tradition. International Relations, however, perhaps because of its ‘youth’ as a discipline, is still ‘groping’ for the best way to study culture. Maybe that is the reason why area-specific journals present a few publications on the topic as shown by the sample of articles analyzed in our article. Yet such pieces of evidence show that Political Science studies, despite recognizing limitations and difficulties, do not avoid approaching culture in its works. Quite the contrary, this area of studies presents a clear pattern: the analyses are focused on a sub-theme (political culture), they present methodology, they are empirical and present theoretical references. Differently, the International Relations field in Brazil tends to embrace the essentialist anthropological conception of culture used in works such as Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations. Therefore, our work brought to light the divergent paths that have been taken by International Relations and Political Science analyses.

Your data shows that approximately 20% of culture-related articles were presented in journals published by the Universidade Federal de Rio Grande do Sul and 14% of these were written by researchers from this university, which is also responsible for the largest number of journals (4 out of 25) with publications on the subject. How would you explain this concentration of scientific production on the subject in one university in Brazil? 

First, it should be taken into account that the data related to author-institution consider only the last degree of the author or if he-she works for that specific institution. Thus, the data does not allow us to correlate the kind of academic training with the publications. However, among the universe of 252 different Brazilian institutions, the data show that 10% of authors and 17% of the total articles are from UFRGS. Such numbers could be attributed to the existence of a specific line of research (Political Culture) in the graduate program in Political Science at UFRGS. Among the teachers working in this line of research, we find the two who publish the most. This shows us the role of the Institutions in stimulating research targets, a fact that could increase the number and quality of studies on culture.

You put forth the fact that your systematic literature review shows a clear distinction between articles written by researchers from the fields of Political Science (PS) and International Relations (IR) “with PS articles using PS literature and IR articles using IR literature.” You also suggest that there is a greater interest in the topic and a greater use of methodology by political scientists than by internationalists. Would you relate these findings to general characteristics of the IR discipline or to specific aspects of research on culture-related subjects?

Both. Although the analyzed data only allows us to talk about Brazil, we could speculate on the main characteristics of the disciplines as a whole. We believe that the difficulties faced by Political Science researchers are similar to those found in International Relations: some examples would be the operationalization of the concept, the excess of different terminologies, the difficulty in isolating cultural factors and the dominant units of analysis (Michael Keating 2008). In Brazil, Political Science studies present general characteristics such as being focused on a sub-theme (political culture), presenting a methodology, an empirical base and theoretical references. On the contrary, there seems to be more difficulty in the field of International Relations, since the studies are less numerous and more dispersed. Christian Reus-Smit (2019) observes a fundamental element that may be barring the advance of such studies in IR: the perpetuation of a concept of culture that is already out of date in other areas since ‘culture’ today is seen as heterogeneous and contradictory, highly porous and deeply intertwined and interrelated. Consequently, there is no unified culture.

Your study shows that except for articles focused on political culture, most articles on culture-related subjects do not present an explicit methodology and resemble more essays than scientific articles. You also show that amongst the articles which indicate explicitly the concept of culture that is used, only 15% opt for a humanistic conception of culture (culture as a product of human effort in intellectual and artistic terms). Could this be related to a lack of data production in the arts sector which limits researchers’ ability to conduct structured quantitative and qualitative studies on related topics?

For the last question, we would answer no. We would say that this is related to the transition that social sciences have been experiencing relating to a shift from a humanistic to an anthropological notion of culture (Julie Reeves 2007). During the 19th century, culture was seen as a path to civilization, embracing theories of races and biological determinism. Culture would be instrumentalized by individuals seeking social growth. Matthew Arnold, one of the greatest exponents of this conception, believed that if enough people became educated, society would inevitably be transformed. However, in the middle of the 20th century, the concept of ‘culture’ became more anthropologically oriented, meaning ‘all that we are’, no matter the community. So culture was considered in its diversity since every individual or community could represent different cultures. Indeed, the data from our study shows that only about 15% of Brazilian articles use this perspective. In our view, this data suggests some fear in using the concept of culture and that the area of study has probably been experiencing a transition in seeking new concepts, maybe even trying to reassess the humanist concept of culture since the anthropological conception has limitations, as emphasized by Christian Reus-Smit (2019).

Read the article

Ferreira, Túlio Sérgio Henriques, & Lira, Vanessa Horácio. (2019). In search of a lost treasure: cultural mapping studies in the field of Political Science and International Relations in Brazil. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 62(1), e008. Epub June 19, 2019.

About the authors

Túlio Sérgio Henriques Ferreira – Universidade Federal da Paraíba, Relações Internacionais, João Pessoa, Brazil (

Vanessa Horácio Lira – Universidade Federal da Paraíba, Relações Internacionais, João Pessoa, Brazil (

Solène Marié, PhD Candidate in International Relations, Universidade de Brasília.

How to cite this interview

aclessa, "In search of a lost treasure: cultural mapping studies in the field of Political Science and IR in Brazil – interview with Túlio Ferreira and Vanessa Lira, by Solène Marié," in Instituto Brasileiro de Relações Internacionais, 29/06/2019,

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