The economics teaching agenda

Image: Rov Camato


How can we ensure that the solidarity economy can enter economics schools?

Answering this question, which appears repeatedly within the scope of the Solidarity Economy movement, involves a strategy that goes beyond what this text can conceive. Given the impossibility of presenting a “solution approach”, what he intends to do is diagnose the problem. To do this, it focuses on a methodologically previous question that is the first step to getting there: why is Solidarity Economy not entering the agenda of economics schools?

It was for this purpose that I prepared the first version of this text. It served as the basis for my participation in the XXV Brazilian Congress of Economics, organized by Cofecon last November, and was subsequently published in your magazine.

Methodological introduction

It is plausible to think that the teaching and research agenda of these schools (hereinafter, simply, agenda, in italics) arises from an interaction between complex systems of a social, economic, productive, political nature ( e politics).

Continuing with the systemic approach, I focus my attention on the analysis of two systems (a concept that, I highlight, differs from that of economic sectors). The idea that the solidarity economy system grows in the interstices of less profitability of the capitalist economy system, although crude and imprecise, is useful to systemically model the question that I intend to help answer.

Exploring it implies investigating the correlation of forces between two actors located in the higher education environment, including here the FIs that branch out into secondary education (which I refer to, from now on and simply, as universities). The group of those who are satisfied with the current state of agenda and those who have reasons of an academic nature to change it so that, within the limits of their governance and in this way, they can remove cognitive obstacles to the expansion of the solidarity economy system.

I understand academic reasons as those derived from strictly disciplinary issues. Fundamentally, those who question the archipelago syndrome: the university is a set of islands where “inaccurate” or “inhuman” people live who are unwilling or unable to build bridges. And they appear mixed with ideological positions that postulate an institutional mission focused on the cognitive demands of the poor.

To investigate that correlation of forces, I will characterize those two systems that make up our peripheral capitalist economy. It is from their interaction that, ultimately, cognitive obstacles and the academic reasons that arise from them are generated.

There is abundant evidence about the extreme concentration of property and income and the bias of the state structure that guarantees and legitimizes the capitalist economic system, based on private ownership of the means of production, competition and heteromanagement. Therefore, I refrain from commenting on it and focus on the analysis of the solidarity economy system, based on collective ownership of the means of production, solidarity and self-management. Also, in favor of brevity, I do not justify here the relevance of the Solidarity Technoscience proposal as an analytical-conceptual framework that, due to its focus on the cognitive space, for changing the agenda that this collection seeks to trigger.

Historical-conceptual introduction

The First Brazilian Social Week, in 1991, which had as its theme “World of work, challenges and perspectives”, recorded the support of Cáritas, social pastorals and trade unions for popular solidarity economy groups.

The Solidarity Economy (SE), as a concept, appeared in Brazil in 1996 in an article published in Folha de São Paulo by Paul Singer. Since then, well over a hundred books, articles, master's dissertations and doctoral theses have appeared on the subject.

In the academic sphere, due to an intention to counterbalance the bias encouraged by business incubators and Technological Innovation Centers, ES appears with the creation of the first technological incubator of popular cooperatives, at UFRJ, in 1995. This initiative functioned as a kind of model for those that started to operate in more than a hundred universities with government support.

As a public policy, ES emerged in 2003 with the creation of the National Secretariat for Solidarity Economy in the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE), under the coordination of Paul Singer. From then on, until the 2016 coup, the National Register of Solidarity Economic Enterprises appeared, Solidarity Economy councils in several state governments, Training Centers, the Solidarity Development Agency, state and municipal laws, the National Policy of Solidarity Economy, the National Solidarity Economy System, etc.

Hundreds of projects aimed at supporting the enterprises that were “sprouting” due to the mobilization of the HE movement were financed. Although this set of initiatives was already losing strength, it was the 2016 coup that precipitated its dismantling. Following an important debate that took place in 2022 about how to introduce SE in a transversal and systemic way into public policy, the National Secretariat for Popular and Solidarity Economy was created in 2023, again at the MTE.

In our economic fabric, higher education is organized through an infinity of production and consumption networks, community banks, social currencies, etc. which, despite not having government subsidies similar to those that companies receive, grow in the interstices of lower profitability of the capitalist economic system.

As a social movement, it functions as a kind of transmission belt between these two spheres (economic and public policy), in numerous municipal, state and national forums where the actions of solidarity enterprises, their demands, and seeks to forward its proposals to the government.

In the political sphere, SE is expressed through groups such as the Public Policy Support Center of the Perseu Abramo Foundation and the state and national Solidarity Economy Sectors of the PT. And, at the parliamentary level, in the creation of several fronts of legislators willing to support the solidarity economy system.

Within the scope of the Federal Economic Council, with the creation of the group that supports the preparation of this text, a process begins that, taking advantage of the fertile grounds identified, can contribute decisively to changing the agenda.

Exogenous cognitive obstacles

Although ideas and theories aligned with what we call ES today are as old as capitalism itself, and events during the Paris Commune, the Spanish Civil War, the Carnation Revolution, and Allende's Chile have signaled alternatives to it , the hegemony of the capitalist economic system did not allow it to penetrate the academic sphere.

It must be recognized that after the Keynesian reign of the golden age of the Welfare State, the little success of the social democratic experiment and the impact of neo-Schumpeterian innovationism sponsored by the avalanche of neoliberalism, there was little left of critical thinking related to Marxism, which could put ES in agenda.

Endogenous cognitive obstacles

As we are located in a peripheral territory whose elites inflict on themselves a comfortable and functional condition of cultural (and, therefore, academic) dependence, something similar to what was pointed out here was to be expected.

Despite having been a territory full of powerful revolutionary contributions in the Human Sciences, and in particular in Economics, focused on the socioeconomic implications of the peripheral condition, there was little left to be mobilized in the direction that interests us.

The impact of that neoliberal avalanche on our public university, and I focus on it for obvious reasons, made it a radiating hub for ideas, theories, best practices, successful cases, benchmarking, and other business methodological-operational instruments adhering to its analytical-conceptual framework and, therefore, coherent with the reproduction of the values ​​and interests of the capitalist economic system.

Which, ultimately, causes even teachers who are supporters of higher education and even those who work in the field of extension to act, due to lack of knowledge, in line with a agenda little coherent with the values ​​and interests of the solidarity economy system.

By considering cognitive obstacles as being the foundational and also the most important ones to be attacked in order to modify the agenda, and because the public university is the loci Where this transformation should occur, the idea that this is where our action should focus is intuitive. In what follows, after analyzing elements that have not yet been addressed, I suggest some mediations for this action.

Centrifugal and centripetal movements

To conclude towards the question of “how to remove cognitive obstacles?” I rescue a criticism I have made regarding the actions of supporters of counter-hegemonic movements at the university. It addresses what I have been referring to, to analyze cases similar to ES, as a centrifugal movement. This movement, which removes discontented actors from the center of the university's circle of power in which hegemony over their orientation is disputed, is justified by them as necessary to generate a space for the accumulation of forces. Or, more pragmatically, as an alternative that allows, together with their peers who share cognitive orientations and academic reasons, the professional fulfillment they deserve.

The centripetal movement focused on the dispute for hegemony within this circle of power is neglected. A false morality defended by those who want to maintain the status quo who claim to want to preserve plurality, autonomy and freedom of professorship, enhances the centrifugal movement. The centripetal movement, potentially capable of better harnessing the energy of these dissatisfied actors and co-opting their peers towards a different path, when disqualified, leads them to not get involved with changing their agenda, today adhering to the capitalist economic system.

Instead of acting politically to guide this agenda In the direction of the solidarity economy system and, in particular, what I have called, particularizing the cognitive space, Solidarity Technoscience, these supporters of HE have moved away from this center. Often for understandable reasons of “survival” they seek out other locii, such as incubators.

There, due to the work of students and a few teachers (almost all from the humanities and dedicated to extension), a notable theoretical-practical process of changing agenda. Despite its important, creative and revolutionary character, it is limited to the small number of students who, dissatisfied with the knowledge they have been receiving, approach incubators.

The ongoing process of extension curricularization is a fundamental “window of opportunity” to be taken advantage of to trigger a centripetal movement oriented towards the dispute of hegemony against those who, claiming that false morality, defend the maintenance of agenda of the economy of the capitalist economic system within the scope of the public university. And, also, the seduction and co-optation of those who still ignore the alternatives to this agenda which have been conceived for three decades in those different areas mentioned in the analytical-conceptual Introduction section.

How to remove cognitive obstacles?: looking back

There have long been centripetal movements in Latin America aimed at avoiding the uncritical reproduction (and largely self-imposed due to the belief in the trans-ideological myth of neutrality and determinism of technoscience) of the teaching, research and extension agenda practiced in central countries.

One of the best-structured and most important movements for the objective of this text, although it has not achieved much success, is that triggered by the Latin American Thought in Science, Technology and Society (PLACTS). Already in the seventies, he proposed changes in the agenda oriented towards the generation of knowledge in line with a national project that aimed at sovereignty in relation to central countries and meeting the “basic needs” of the population. The assessment I make of the success with which its founders conducted the descriptive and explanatory moments of their analysis is so positive that it is on this that I rely on for the elaboration of the conceptual analytical framework that originates the Solidarity Technoscience proposal.

Regarding the normative moment, however, my assessment is different. The circumstances in which Latin America lived meant that PLACTS, although it recognized the limitations (evidenced by the Dependency Theory) that imperialism and the propertied class placed on what they wanted, was unable to obtain the university's adhesion to change its agenda.

In that circumstance, a left divided between a project of joining a national bourgeoisie supposedly capable of confronting imperialism and another, which proposed armed struggle, the question of changing the agenda was not addressed in a consequential manner. The first project had national and state-owned companies as its central actor. However, to meet the imitative consumption of goods and services already engineered in the North, it did not need to innovate (explore relative surplus value) as capitalism typically works there.

On the contrary, local companies can continue to take advantage of the more comfortable possibility of enjoying absolute added value. This especially plundering variant of peripheral capitalism engendered by the owning class and “its” State. The project that still persists, reprising the notion of national developmentalism in the form of the ongoing proposal of Neoindustrialization, supported by the trans-ideological myth of neutrality and determinism of technoscience, ultimately explains why the issue of agenda remains away from cognitive politics.

How to remove cognitive obstacles?: looking ahead

The historical-conceptual Introduction indicates a change in this situation. An analytical-conceptual framework that renews PLACTS and the thinking of foreign and, mainly, national authors (such as Paulo Freire and Darcy Ribeiro), and the emergence of a new actor, the SE movement, can change the correlation of forces in favor of those who want to change the agenda.

Among the many factors that contribute to the strengthening of this new actor, there is one that is ominously current, the awareness of the need to overcome the worsening of the systemic crisis of capitalism. And also the fact that at the strict individual level, of its business, the company, even if it were willing to do so, is incapable of internalizing the negative externalities it has been causing. Those who do so contrary to the atomized and intrinsically selfish logic that governs it, will be excluded from the market because they are unable to transfer their higher production costs to the price.

But among these factors, what I want to highlight, given its characteristic of a possible “future-bearing fact” for promoting change in agenda, is the existence of a government in which many of its left-wing leaders, especially those who studied some Economics, belong to a generation that knew and valued higher education.

To mobilize them, one should, firstly, consider that perhaps it is the need to take into account the interests of other members of the government coalition which explains the fact that they are not yet acting in a sufficiently incisive way.

Some of them have not highlighted the specificity of the solidarity economy system and mention it in an indifferent way in relation to proposals such as the creative, circular, popular, green, impact or sustainable economy that, in reality, serve other interests and values. Caught up in the persistent social democratic trap of trying to make the capitalist economic system more efficient in order to finance socializing policies, they do not take into account the importance of directing the voluminous public purchasing resources towards higher education. Increasingly understood by ES supporters as the main way of expanding and consolidating their production and consumption networks and, in this way, taking advantage of its role in inducing a fairer, more sustainable style of development, it is also seen as a guarantor of the governability that the current government needs.

It is necessary to make these political leaders materialize their great leverage power to change the agenda. Along with the sectors most directly involved with the solidarity economy system and, in particular, in the field on which this text focuses, with professors, students and university employees (where obviously they must continue to act), they need to be co-opted.

An opportunity to advance in this direction was the XXV Brazilian Congress of Economics, organized by Cofecon last November, where for the first time it was possible to publicize the topic of higher education among the most prominent economists. As a measure that could be taken forward later, I suggested that a document be sent to political leaders who had demonstrated sympathy with ES in the past, asking them to suggest measures to change the agenda.

* Renato Dagnino He is a professor at the Department of Scientific and Technological Policy at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Solidarity Technoscience, a strategic manual (anti-capital fights).

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