The Center for the Study of Violence of the University of São Paulo (NEV-USP) is engaged with the work developed by the Teotônio Vilela Commission (CTV), a group of intellectuals, artists and politicians (among whom Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, professor of political science at USP) who met periodically since the early 1980s to monitor and tackle human rights violations in closed institutions of legal and social control.
The intervention activities of the CTV suggested the need for a systematic research plan to gather and analyze information on issues related to violence and human rights in order to qualify and consolidate the debates surrounding these issues. Faced with this shortcoming, a partnership between Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro and Sérgio Adorno (professor in the Sociology Department at USP) initiated the process of creating a documentation and research center on crime, violence and human rights in 1987 at the University of São Paulo.
Originally set up inside the teachers’ own classrooms at the Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Human Sciences (FFLCH-USP), the Center for the Study of Violence became in 1990 one of the Research Support Centers (NAP) of the Research Office of the University of São Paulo (PRP-USP), which not only ensured a suitable physical space (the NEV was now installed in the area known as the USP hives), but also provided institutional links with other Units, paving the way for a collaboration of researchers from other fields of knowledge, such as Dr. Nancy Cardia (Social Psychology) who joined the NEV team in 1989 and soon became a co-coordinator.
This arrangement suggests that many of the NEV-USP’s most remarkable traits have been present since its inception: the vocation for interdisciplinary work and the proposal to incorporate research with a commitment to intervene in reality. The Center’s early researches already signaled an interest in issues such as violence and human rights through an approach that takes into account both the role of the State and society, as well as the social representations regarding the serious violations of such rights.
One of the Center’s first research projects – “The Criminal Justice Administration System” (1987-1994) – underlined the ineffectiveness of public policies and the lack of synergy between institutions in democracy, suggesting the perpetuation of models adopted during the military dictatorship (1964-1988). From this study emerged the research “Socially Implanted Authoritarianism” (1987-1991), whose main hypothesis argued that the dominance exerted by the power elites was largely due to popular legitimation. This dominance, which had been in force for a long historical period, could be explained by the deeply entrenched roots of authoritarianism, preserved by way of daily interpersonal interactions, characterized both within the family and the public sphere by violence, intolerance, and hierarchy.
Subsequently, the project “Authoritarian Continuity and Consolidation of Democracy” (1994-2000) explored the role of human rights violations in the process of Brazilian democratization, the construction of citizenship after the 1988 Constitution, and the re-conquest of the Rule of Law. Through the reconstruction of serious human rights violations cases between 1980 and 1989, based on rigorous archival and field investigations, the research demonstrated that such litigations involve clearly demarcated agents and scenarios as well as a chain of hierarchical relations among its protagonists.
Coupled with the research work, the NEV also played an important role in key initiatives for the promotion of human rights, such as collaborations in drafting and updating the National Human Rights Plan (1996) and the São Paulo State Human Rights Plan (1997), the “São Paulo Without Fear” Seminar, promoted in partnership with the Roberto Marinho Foundation and Rede Globo (1997), the creation of the São Paulo Institute against Violence (1997). At the end of 1999 the NEV left the USP hive and established itself in a warehouse neighboring the USP School of Economics and Business. The expansion of the space was fundamental to ensure the apportionment and expansion of the research and support teams.
From 2000, the NEV became a participant member of the program “Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers” (CEPID), a FAPESP funding line for research projects promoting innovation coupled with knowledge dissemination and technology transfer. The initial proposal of this first CEPID was structured across five lines of research: 1) Monitoring Serious Human Rights Violations; 2) Design of Public Security Policies; 3) Study of Legal Impunity; 4) Representations on Human Rights, Justice, and Punishment; and 5) Integrated Theory of Human Rights. This project was renewed circa 5 years later with 2 research lines: 1) Monitoring Serious Human Rights Violations and 2) Democracy, Rule of Law, and Human Rights.
Funding from FAPESP was paramount to the NEV’s institutionalization, as it ensured stability and the opportunity to develop long-term multidisciplinary research and investments in education as well as knowledge transfer and dissemination activities geared towards a non-academic audience, such as the Human Rights Observatories Network, the creation of the Guide to Your Rights website, and the project Promoting the Right to a Healthy Development of Pregnant Adolescents and their Children: a pilot program of home visitations for primary prevention of violence.
Following the tradition of merging scientific research with intervention in the public debate and public policy-making, the NEV has also developed important initiatives within the field of Security and Justice, such as the Police and Society book series, edited by Edusp and with financial support from the Ford Foundation; the book series Human Rights, also edited by Edusp, the manuals on Violence in Schools and Community Policing, the Course on Organizational Management in Public Security and Criminal Justice, and the development of a Methodology for monitoring cases of lethality to assist police supervisory bodies.
The NEV’s collaboration with other national and international institutions has led to integrated cooperation networks across several issues. Since 2004, the NEV has been a Collaborating Center of the World Health Organization, where it participates in forums and research on violence prevention. Between 2008 and 2014, the NEV hosted the National Institute of Science and Technology (INCT) on Violence, Democracy, and Citizen Security, an academic network funded by the CNPq, which brought together six renowned research centers from different regions of the country specialized in the study of violence, democracy, human rights, and public security. Furthermore, since 2010 the NEV has been part of the Criminal Justice Network, which convenes civil society organizations concerned with the abusive use of provisional detention in Brazil. Due to the demolition of the entire warehouse area where the NEV was headquartered, the Center relocated in 2011 to a building owned by the Institute of Technological Research (IPT), through a use permit agreement, with larger and better suited facilities to the needs of the team.
In 2012, the NEV enrolled and was selected for a new CEPID research project with the proposal “Building Democracy Daily: Human Rights, Violence and Institutional Trust”, a research program that explores how the legitimacy of key institutions for democracy is constructed or jeopardized in everyday life, based on the relationship and interactions between citizens and those responsible for general public services.
All of the aforementioned activities have contributed to the training of human resources across every academic level, the construction of databases and specialized archival collections, as well as interventions within the public debate and the design of public security, justice, and human rights policies congruent with the democratic State under the rule of law.