Natasha Borges Sugiyama, Ph.D.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Country: United States (Wisconsin)

Research Interests


Health Politics and Policy

Public Policy

Comparative Democratization

Democracy And Well-being

Citizenship Development

Politics Of Poverty

Countries of Interest



Journal Articles:

(2018) Making the Newest Citizens: The Quest for Universal Birth Registration in Contemporary Brazil, Journal of Development Studies

Identity documentation is essential to secure the rights, benefits, and services that modern states provide. Historically, significant numbers of poor Brazilians lacked core documents, beginning with a birth certificate. In recent years the government has conducted a campaign to rectify this situation. We explore why the state left so many Brazilians without a birth certificate previously and why it became intent on registering all births, as reflected in recent efforts to facilitate the process. Key in this regard is the movement from a social policy orientation that excluded poor Brazilians in the informal sector to one aimed at including them.

(2017) Democracy at Work: Moving Beyond Elections to Improve Well-Being, American Political Science Review

How does democracy work to improve well-being? In this article, we disentangle the component parts of democratic practice—elections, civic participation, expansion of social provisioning, local administrative capacity—to identify their relationship with well-being. We draw from the citizenship debates to argue that democratic practices allow citizens to gain access to a wide range of rights, which then serve as the foundation for improving social well-being. Our analysis of an original dataset covering over 5,550 Brazilian municipalities from 2006 to 2013 demonstrates that competitive elections alone do not explain variation in infant mortality rates, one outcome associated with well-being. We move beyond elections to show how participatory institutions, social programs, and local state capacity can interact to buttress one another and reduce infant mortality rates. It is important to note that these relationships are independent of local economic growth, which also influences infant mortality. The result of our thorough analysis offers a new understanding of how different aspects of democracy work together to improve a key feature of human development.

(2014) Transforming Subjects into Citizens: Insights from Brazil's Bolsa Família, Perspectives on Politics

Welfare programs distribute benefits to citizens. Perhaps even more importantly, by conveying powerful messages about how the state views poor people, welfare programs shape people’s views about themselves as subjects or citizens. Theoretical debates on how public policies can enhance democratic citizenship inspire our study of Brazil’s Bolsa Família (Family Grant). Has this conditional cash transfer program, which forms a major point of contact between the state and millions of poor Brazilians, elevated feelings of social inclusion and agency? A prominent perspective in the welfare-state literature would not expect a positive outcome given the strict means testing and behavioral requirements entailed. Yet our focus group research with Bolsa Família recipients suggests that the program does foster a sense of belonging and efficacy. Policy design and government discourse matter. This innovative welfare program yields rich insights on alternative paths to citizenship development for middle- and low-income countries in the third wave of democracy.

Books Written:

(2020) Democracy at Work: Pathways to Well-Being in Brazil, Cambridge University Press

One of the greatest challenges in the 21st century is to address large, deep, and historic deficits in human development. Democracy at Work explores a crucial question: how does democracy, with all of its messy, contested, and, time-consuming features, advance well-being and improve citizens’ lives? Professors Brian Wampler, Natasha Borges Sugiyama, and Michael Touchton argue that differences in the local robustness of three democratic pathways – participatory institutions, rights-based social programs, and inclusive state capacity – best explain the variation in how democratic governments improve well-being. Using novel data from Brazil and innovative analytic techniques, the authors show that participatory institutions permit citizens to express voice and exercise vote, inclusive social programs promote citizenship rights and access to public resources, and more capable local states use public resources according to democratic principles of rights protections and equal access. The analysis uncovers how democracy works to advance capabilities related to poverty, health, women’s empowerment, and education.

(2012) Diffusion of Good Government: Social Sector Reforms in Brazil, University of Notre Dame

One of the most fundamental questions for social scientists involves diffusion events; simply put, how do ideas spread and why do people embrace them? In Diffusion of Good Government: Social Sector Reforms in Brazil, Natasha Borges Sugiyama examines why innovations spread across political territories and what motivates politicians to adopt them. Sugiyama does so from the vantage point of Brazilian politics, a home to innovative social sector reforms intended to provide the poor with access to state resources. Since the late 1980s, the country has undergone major policy transformations as local governments have gained political, fiscal, and administrative autonomy. For the poor and other vulnerable groups, local politics holds special importance: municipal authorities provide essential basic services necessary for their survival, including social assistance, education, and health care. Brazil, with over 5,000 municipalities with a wide variety of political cultures and degrees of poverty, thus provides ample opportunities to examine the spread of innovative programs to assist such groups. Sugiyama delves into the politics of social sector reforms by examining the motivations for emulating well-regarded programs. To uncover the mechanisms of diffusion, her analysis contrasts three paradigmatic models for how individuals choose to allocate resources: by advancing political self-interest to gain electoral victories; by pursuing their ideological commitments for social justice; or by seeking to demonstrate adherence to the professional norms of their fields. Drawing on a mixed-method approach that includes extensive field research and statistical analysis on the spread of model programs in education (especially Bolsa Escola, a school grant program) and health (Programa Saúde da Família, a family health program), she concludes that ideological convictions and professional norms were the main reasons why mayors adopted these programs, with electoral incentives playing a negligible role.