Can Piaget Explain Jair Bolsonaro?

Paulo Blikstein is an Associate Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, an Affiliate Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Columbia University, and Director of the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab and of the Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies. Renato Russo is a doctoral student at Teachers College and a researcher at the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab. Swiss cognitive scientist Jean Piaget demonstrated that there is nothing more resilient than a theory we create on our own. Narratives and stories are powerful, but they lack one crucial property, in comparison: they don’t make us feel as clever and intellectually capable. We propose that this pleasure and feeling of self-efficacy in theorizing – also proven by decades of neuroscience research – is closely related to current political communication and democracy-threatening events that took place in Brazil last January. Starting with the election of Lula in late October, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters spent as much as two months camping in front of military facilities, mobilized around the claim of rigged elections, culminating in the siege of the Brazilian capital on January 8th, 2023.  “Fake news” explains part of a campaign that elected Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro four years ago and that kept part of his constituency mobilized. But it is only part of the story. Research by media studies and communication scholars, such as Francesca Tripodi, Alice Marwick, and Ethan Zuckerman, has shown how extremists resort to epistemological practices that in a way resemble those of scientific communities. Drawing on this scholarship,…Can Piaget Explain Jair Bolsonaro?