UCL Institute of the Americas


Cosimo Stahl

Claiming or framing for anti-corruption? Assessing the mobilising effects of Brazil's Public Federal Ministry communication campaign during the Lava Jato investigations (2014-21)


Dr Par Engstrom and Professor Christian Schuster (UCL Political Science)

Expected completion date: 2023

My PhD explores the idea of state-led anticorruption activism and assesses the effectiveness of framing and claims-making at the hands of institutional anticorruption champions. For empirical case, it draws on Brazil's Public Federal Ministry's (MPF) communication campaign during the 2014-20 Lava Jato investigations. Building on communications theories (framing and such) and the literature on (anti)corruption, a (crisis) communication model for strategically building public support is proposed and tested, inspired by the experience of social movements. The central argument is that such communication - even if unconventional (for being typically employed in non-institutional settings of contention) - may (only) prove effective as long as it is carefully 'circumstantiated'. This means that communicators must situationally harness the public momentum. To probe for the so-called mobilising effects of communication content relative to communication context, a content/social media analysis of public (online) data is conducted (using Facebook and Twitter). This is to showcase that certain frame and claim types, especially when used for communication 'in an official capacity' (by institutional players by the state), can bear very different effects (positive and adverse) on the extent and quality of online engagement and sentiment among the virtual public. Arguably, the direction of effectiveness is very much contingent upon circumstantial changes in the public mood, notably in the aftermath of scandal and crisis. By illustration of Brazil's recent trajectory from initial 'accountability revolution' (2014-15), via political turmoil (2016-17) to authoritarian turn (from 2018) - this will ultimately pinpoint the fine line between potential and danger of such unconventional communication and contentious governance efforts.