Car Wash, Crisis, and Political Cataclysm: Corruption Narratives in the Brazilian Mediascape

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch


  • Mads Bjelke Damgaard
A wave of corruption disclosure, leaks, and media exposés engulfed the Brazilian democracy in the period 2014–2018. Below the surface of an uncommonly successful investigation into high-level corruption, undercurrents of political crisis swept President Dilma Rousseff from office through impeachment proceedings. Rousseff was ousted in 2016 by members of the political elite - themselves embroiled in the scandal going by the name of Operação Lava-Jato or “Operation Car Wash” – long before she even became indicted in the corruption case. Thus, the scandal featured a curious temporality and a displacement of crisis that dragged Rousseff, her popular presidential predecessor Lula and their party with it in the undertow. The media built up a crisis of increasing complexity as the investigations became ever more widespread in an avalanche of evidence and plea bargains. This thesis analyzes the Lava-Jato scandal as a textual system, unfolding in the Brazilian mediascape and governed by a set of narrative structures. Countering the existing hesitance of media studies to draw in narrative theory, the thesis constructs a theoretical and methodological foundation to analyze intertextual narrative structures emerging in a distributed manner across a system of news texts dealing with scandal. With this, the thesis attempts to answer why the Lava-Jato scandal ended with such surprising and self contradictory results, and how, theoretically, narrative theory can contribute to the field of scandal studies. Inspired by Frederick Jameson’s reading of Greimas, it is argued that the intertextual narratives that underpin the production of news texts on scandal constrain and co-constitute the field of political action. Thus, to understand the outcomes of the Lava-Jato scandal, it is necessary to analyze how the disequilibrium of Brazilian democracy was symbolically solved in the narratives interpreting the scandals and the impeachment.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDet Humanistiske Fakultet, Københavns Universitet
Number of pages231
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

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