Here in Brazil, things are a lot more bureaucratic than in the UK. Partly because they don't trust people.

Government employees have zero lee-way to help you bend the rules. Low-level civil servants have no powers to witness that the photocopy of a document you give them is the same an original you show them. That must be done by an independent solicitor, in another place, who must be payed to witness and assert that the two documents are the same, so you can then hand the photocopy in to the government office. (The office can't even make the photocopy themselves.)

People say that it's out of fear of corruption. And yes, there is corruption here. But is it a CauseOrSymptom of this level of formal control? Don't you need to trust people to teach them to be trust-worthy?

But it isn't just fear of corruption. Among the middle-classes I meet, there's a respect for the formal, for qualifications and professional status. Companies proudly boast their ISO9001 status. People dress more formally than in England.

Maybe because it's a government town.

Another data-point : I have a qualification from Sussex university. I've already had my certificate verified as legitimate by the Brazilian consulate in London. But now, if I really want it to be recognized here, I need to have my thesis read and essentially re-evaluated to see if it's up to the Brazilian standard. Standards are high in academia here. Even a PhD from a UK university can get turned down. Here they're terrified of being fobbed off with the second-rate failures of the first-world. (Ouch! that sounds a bit close to home doesn't it :-)

And maybe they're right. There probably are chancers from the first-world here to take advantage of another aspect of the culture, an excessive respect for things from the first-world; an over admiration for Europe and the US.

And yet, another Brazilian friend received a grant from the government to go to Sussex. When she gets her PhD from there, that too will have to be checked. So the system accepts the standards of the university for the purposes of paying for a student to study there, but doesn't trust the degrees that that university then hands out.

I'm starting to suspect that all these formal systems are in place due to to a lack of self-confidence. Or more specifically, due to a sense of exclusion. What makes you confident and trusting? When you feel reliably connected to a SocialNetwork where information reliably flows.

Academics I know passionately feel distanced from the authentic centre of things. They suffer a lack of access. They think don't get information which is up-to-date. And they feel they aren't taken seriously when they try to publish and communicate with the centre.

So academia retreats into formality. Courses are longer and more rigorous. Qualifications are fetishized. ISO9001 is what you flaunt when you desperately want other people to take you seriously. It's not something you worry so much about when you're confident of your product, that your market knows and values your product and your value.

Counter

In a sense, this analysis is absurd. It's the nature of the market to be alienating, to abstract away from the personal, from the social network. Of course formal qualifications and accreditations are essential on the large scale, aren't they? It's the price you pay for scaling-up out of your community.

Counter-counter

Yet, I can't quite imagine meetings in the cliques of heads of Fortune 500 US corporations, where the talk is of 9001 accreditation. At the centre of things, social networks and personal connections still rule.

Formality is therefore your strategy when you are excluded from the social networks you want to be part of. It's the tribute you bring, as a sacrifice to the alpha-gods. Value me, I'm more worthy. More virtuous and reliable. And here's my bit of paper to prove it.

CategoryBrazil, CategoryPolitics