Brazil’s Social Welfare Strategy Sparked New Political Science Professor’s Passion

Photo by Lori Bauer
Photo by Lori Bauer

By Juliana Scheiderer ’16

Dr. Matthew Layton’s interest in Latin America began on a church mission trip to Minas Gerais, Brazil, during his undergraduate years. Starting a journey that would eventually bring him to Ohio University, he later enrolled in a master’s program to study both the history and the politics of the region.

At Vanderbilt University, he completed his master’s degree in Latin American Studies. But for his Ph.D., he knew he wanted to narrow his focus to the comparative politics of the Latin American region.

His research led him back to Brazil, where he studied the political empowerment of welfare beneficiaries in the country’s Bolsa Familia program, which is one of the world’s largest targeted social welfare systems. While it provides direct assistance to over 13 million poor Brazilian families, it also ties aid to conditions such as keeping children in school and getting vaccinations. With its focus on education, the program’s goal is to fight long-term poverty while dealing with short-term needs.

Layton’s work focuses on economic disparities in the region and how conditional aid programs affect people’s trust in the government and their civic and electoral participation.

‘Hearing the Voices of People Living with the Consequences’

With the help of a Fulbright-Hays fellowship, Layton was able to complete his fieldwork in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, and the city of Manaus. Speaking with individuals directly affected by the program and offering their feedback to the program’s administrators was the most rewarding part of this experience, he said.

“It was a remarkable moment in my research when that connection actually got made,” Professor Layton explains. “Hearing the voices of people on the ground living with the consequences of decisions made in government on a day-to-day basis and being able to give feedback directly to that system was a really rewarding experience.”

“My interest, as a political scientist, is how these programs are impacting the beneficiary families in terms of their inclusion in their community,” explains Layton, who completed a Ph.D. in Political Science in 2015 at Vanderbilt, with a focus on comparative politics in the Latin American region.

“This is a topic that I was interested in going into my Ph.D. program, and I came out even more interested in it. I’m excited about the work that I do and the research and teaching components as well.”

In Athens, Continuing Research and Sharing Expertise

Now as Ohio University’s newest Political Science professor, he will continue his research on the effects of programs such as Brazil’s Bolsa Familia.

This semester, you can find him teaching a course in Comparative Politics (POLS 2300) and a course on the Politics of Latin America (POLS 4340).

When asked what he’s most looking forward to about living in Athens, Layton goes with a crowd favorite.

“I’m really excited to see the marching band perform. I did marching band in high school, and it was something I truly enjoyed.… It’ll help me remember some of those fun times.”

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