Lethal Violence in Brazil: A Systematic Review of Portuguese-Language Literature From 2000 to 2020

AuthorVania Ceccato,Lisandra Cardoso Vazquez,Tulio Kahn
Publication Date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Lethal Violence in Brazil:
A Systematic Review
of Portuguese-Language
Literature From 2000 to 2020
Vania Ceccato
, Tulio Kahn
, and Lisandra Cardoso Vazquez
Reviewing national literature on homicides in Brazil, this article explores questions that relate to the
nature, trends, determinants, and impact of these crimes on society, as well as interventions to
combat this type of violence. The article contributes to the international literature by reviewing and
critically discussing a sample of 112 theses on homicides from the Portuguese-language literature
using the Brazilian Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations from 2000 to 2020. Highlighting
an issue that primarily affects young, poor Black men, the article helps advocate for a better
understanding of other types of lethal violence that affect women, LGBQTI and other minorities.
The article calls for a better understanding of the role of the state, the police and other criminal
justice actors as generators and/or controllers of violence, as well as the need for other perspectives
on homicide prevention, which include the microsituational aspects of killing, organized crime, and
interaction between the individual and the environment.
homicides, Global South, spatiotemporal patterns, police, infanticide, feminicide, violence
prevention, BDTD
Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. At approximately 30.76 per 100,000
population in 2020, according to DATASUS, the rate was three times the world average. High rates
of homicides is persistent problem in Brazil (Murray et al., 2013), a country where violence is
exacerbated by socioeconomic inequalities and racism (Instituto de Pesquisa Econˆomica Aplicada/
orum Brasileiro de Seguranc¸a P´
ublica [IPEA/FBSP], 2016; Truzzi et al., 2021), and is historically
featured in the country’s colonization by forced occupation and slavery (Langfur, 2006). In addition,
the country has one of the most violent police forces in the world (FBSP, 2016). As a comparison,
Department of Urban Planning and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
˜o Espac¸o Democr´
atico, Sa
˜o Paulo, Brazil
Corresponding Author:
Vania Ceccato, Department of Urban Planning and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Teknikringen
10 A, 100 44 Stockholm, Sweden.
Email: vania.ceccato@abe.kth.se
Criminal Justice Review
ª2021 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/07340168211038273
2021, Vol. 46(4) 404–434
police in the United States took 30 years to kill the same number of civilians as police in Brazil did in
6 years from 2008 to 2013, despite a U.S. population that is approximately 50%larger (Oatman,
2015). Finally, Brazil has one of the highest rates of feminicide (Costa, 2016; Lodetti, 2016; Romio,
2017) and one of the highest number of lethal violent crimes against LGBQTI people in the world
(Mendes & Silva, 2020), as well as hundreds of dead each year in land conflicts (Ceccato & Ceccato,
2017), reflecting the legacy of a society with extreme infringement of basic human rights.
Brazil is the largest country in Latin America by population, with 213 million inhabitants in 2021,
and sixth globally (Worldmeter, 2021). It is a Global South
country, comprising 26 states, one
federal district and 5,570 municipalities. In recent decades, it has carried out several anti-violence
programs that could interest an international audience. In addition, an absolute high number of
homicides provides an opportunity for researchers to test hypotheses and explanatory models, such
as the relationship between violence and its determinants, in extreme different environments: from
mega cities like Sa
˜o Paulo and Rio to remote rural areas of center-east and Amazon regions.
Yet, much scholarship on violence in Brazil is unknown to an international audience. Despite
being the ninth most-common language in the world, and the second most-common Romance
language (after Spanish), Portuguese is not widely accessed by the international research commu-
nity. This article helps remedy that by reviewing and critically discussing a sample of the Brazilian
literature written in Portuguese using the Brazilian Digital Lib rary of Theses and Dissertations
(BDTD) from 2000 to 2020. The aim is to capture the basic features of homicide research conducted
by scholars affiliated with Brazilian universities. This is achieved by discussing the types of lethal
violence analyzed in the studies, mapping the academic production on the subject, indicating the
most important disciplines to the understanding of lethal violence in Brazil and the general aspects
that can be extracted from the analysis of the studies, such as nature and trend of crimes, profile of
victims, structural determinants, methods, and implications of public policies.
This study follows and complements a systematic literature overview with 14 studies (in
English and or Portuguese) carried out by Murray et al. (2013). In that review, authors compared
homicide rates in Brazil with other countries worldwide, examined time trends in homi cide, and
identified risk factors for lethal violence in Brazil. A key conclusion of the review was that there
was need for more systematic data collection on crime and violence in Brazil. Because the call
remains unanswered, and some new emergent questions 10 years on are still of more relevance
than before, we argue for the need of a new systematic review of the literature. Instead of making
an in-depth analysis, this systematic review reports the topics of studies from a variety of multi-
disciplinary fields devoted to lethal violence in Brazil from 2000 to 2020. For other references in
Portuguese, see partial recent collections carried out by Kopittke and Ramos (2021) which is an
evaluation of programs directed to homicides and de Oliveira et al. (2020) on articles only about
homicides in the last decade (2006–2016). In this review, we focused on PhD theses only, pub-
lished from 2000 to 2020; a decision that was taken because of the massive amount o f materials of
varied quality (reports, articles, and theses) available in this area and because we believe that PhD
theses represent the highest quality materials in this area, which allows comparisons with inter-
national publications at the same level. Another important feature of this review is that it gives
voices to a rich multidisciplinary field, reviewing pieces of research from Sociology, Economy,
Social-Political Science, Epidemiology, Public health, Anthropology, and other related fields such
as History and Geography, to name a few, using various methods, quantitative, qualitative or
Definitions and Limitations
We excluded studies on jails, tribunal and juridical topics, theology, forensics, cinematography, and
Brazilian literature.
Ceccato et al.

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