After all, is the scientific article a commodity?

Image: Shvets Anna


The productivist logic promotes the intensification of teaching work and pressure for the researcher to be equal to an entrepreneur in the private sector

The professional trajectory started three decades ago, of a bookseller specialized in university books and the experience of that bookseller, now a professor, in the direction of the Editorial and Graphic Center of the Federal University of Goiás, in the period from 2006 to 2013, guided the reflection on the transformations occurred in the dissemination process of scientific knowledge and the hegemony of the scientific article. The understanding of the academic editorial process, from reception, through the evaluation of the editorial board to the definition of a graphic project capable of giving identity to the theme of the book, revealed the guts of the academic editorial process and its transformations in times of productivism.

At that time, the activities of a university press translated the ways of disseminating the knowledge produced by a university, based on the editorial policy adopted by the institution. A university press could then develop, through its editorial policy, an intellectual project to preserve human thought. And this policy would only be consolidated when guided by criteria committed to teaching, to the production of science, technology, art and culture – in short, the basic assumptions of the academic tripod “teaching, research and extension”. The scientific, artistic and cultural quality should be combined with other commitments determined by the way the books are produced, such as satisfying the readership, establishing languages, meeting demands and, above all, assuming the spaces not occupied by commercial publishers.

In the case of a public institution of higher education, the role was expanded when books were produced that should also contribute to the formation of university readers in their specific fields. In this sense, editorial boards became responsible for formalizing the policies that would guide their publications: what? For whom? Why? As? Where? When? Due to these requirements, the university press, endowed with an editorial policy defined by a board of representatives, competent, respected and independent, would not run the risk of being confused with printing companies that rent stamps to be placed on the covers of books.

However, it was noticed that the procedures around the book were difficult to understand and accept. They did not meet the speed of production and circulation necessary for the interests posed by institutional evaluation policies. Hence, they went against these assumptions by seeking formats and languages ​​that adjusted to the specificity of the areas, their contents and their own languages. Thus, the publisher's work in the UFG's academic environment generated new demands for publication in the academic career and for institutional evaluations to meet the requirements of development agencies, which began to affect intellectual production.

The growing demands for publication, based on an ongoing policy at the university, tended to value academic production based on quantitative criteria, especially in terms of “bibliographic production”, in qualified publications. In this policy, characterized by many as “productivist”, the indexed journal article gained prominence.

The demand for strengthening scientific journals pointed to the priority of publishing scientific articles as a means of disseminating the academic knowledge produced. Thus, despite all the accumulated experience around book publication and the understanding of the importance of this process for the university, the scientific article has become the most privileged way to achieve academic success. It is worth mentioning that, during this trajectory, when composing the board of the Brazilian Association of University Publishers (ABEU), from 2011 to 2012, I was able to verify that the role of university publishers was constantly questioned.

This issue was due to the transformations present in the process of publicizing the knowledge that was being instituted, especially by the processes of evaluating academic production, and the growing importance of the scientific article in the editorial context.

This finding led me to question this model of disseminating academic knowledge that was gaining such strength, especially when a fact, which will be seen below, caught my attention.


The Unproductive at USP

In the studies carried out around the theme, an event became emblematic to situate the issue of academic productivism. In 1988, an article in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo[I] listed names of professors and researchers at USP who would not have published any scientific work in the period from 1985 to 1986, based on information provided by the Coordination of General Administration of the Rectory of that university. This episode, known as “the unproductive list at USP”, symbolically served as a reference for the transformations that would intensify in Brazilian higher education institutions from the 1990s onwards.

With the publication of the list, it was found that 25% of professors on an exclusive dedication basis had not presented anything to the public in the period from 1985 to 1986. For the purposes of these calculations, the following were considered: journal articles, newspaper articles, reviews , books, translation, audiovisual materials and works presented at events. Based on a purely quantitative analysis, since the scientific relevance of the published material was not taken into account, USP presented the name, work regime, length of service of the professor, as well as the profile of each academic unit, listing the number of professors and the total number of publications.

The report of Folha de São Paulo defended the need to improve the methods of evaluating academic activity, suggesting that the low level of production of professors at USP demanded a meticulous, public and intransigent analysis. According to the article, the elaboration of the referred list constituted an important step in this objective, as it was the first time that a Brazilian university proposed to expose not only this type of evaluation, but also what it produced.

Justifying USP's initiative, the article maintained that intellectual production guided evaluation in the developed world, since, in the fundamental attributions of modern society, universities were responsible for organizing and disseminating knowledge. This task presupposed teaching, research and extension, as services provided to the community. Only the knowledge incorporated to the intellectual heritage of humanity, through its dissemination, would then be relevant.

The then rector of USP, José Goldemberg, explained that the creation of the list corresponded to an evaluation necessary for the university to justify itself before society. It would thus be accounting for the funds it consumed, as well as demonstrating that it was fulfilling its social purposes: training highly qualified personnel and producing innovative and relevant critical knowledge for the country. Goldemberg also stated that the evaluation was an important tool for resource allocation and optimization, since it developed mechanisms capable of establishing decision criteria.

It should be noted that the release of this list provoked an intense public debate through opinions, analyzes and complaints, with dozens of daily articles for almost a month.[ii] The positions taken by the authors, many of them contrary to the publication of the list, questioned the administration of the rectory for the use given to an internal mechanism at USP, unknown even by the professors. Only two of them, Eunice Ribeiro Durham and Rogério César de Cerqueira Leite, were in favor of drawing up and publishing the list with individual production indicators, warning only that it should be better executed. Among the articles that criticized the publication of the unproductive list, the one by Marilena Chauí stands out, which presented the profile of the unproductive teacher based on his trajectory; that of Francisco Weffort, who dealt with the false transparency contained in the disclosure of the list; that of Maria Tereza Leme Fleury, who pointed out the frivolity of this transparency; and that of Nestor Goulart, who defended the idea of ​​an inquisition present in the list of unproductive workers. Furthermore, the Folha de São Paulo it had the intellectual contribution, constant or occasional, of a large number of professors considered unproductive, such as Antonio Candido, José Arthur Giannotti, Paul Singer, among others.

This fact became an important landmark on university evaluation conceptions and practices, highlighting the rise of a process characterized as productivism, which would be assimilated naturally in academic circles. Indeed, the practices created and initiated during this period consolidated an evaluation model with new conceptual, political and ideological frameworks, whose premises were anchored in the administration and control of academic production.

Marked by a productivist conception, this model, which would influence the construction of a national evaluation system implemented in Brazil, with regard to academic work, was based on publication requirements. Hence, the scientific article would become one of the most important devices in evaluating teacher performance.

The disclosure of the list of unproductive ones would point to changes in university conceptions and evaluation practices and would reveal devices that would subtly become more present in the techniques of measuring intellectual production. These aspects of the nascent productivism, over the years, would become commonplace in academia (Schmidt, 2011).


Productivism in academia

The productivist model is constituted, in the context of the modernization of the university, under the aegis of academic productivity that establishes criteria of production and performance by the logic of the business organization of work imposed by globalization. Still according to Schmidt (2011), productivism is part of the university modernization process as ideas and practices aimed at adapting its scientific and technological production, as well as at competitiveness in the national and international spheres.

The subject of productivism has been studied by different authors (Sguissard and Silva Jr, 2009; Luz, 2005; Alcadipani, 2011; Waters, 2006; Bianchetti and Machado, 2009; Silva, Jr., 2017) who outline a quantitative apprehension of science , induced by academic production evaluation systems. The productivist ideology becomes inseparable from mercantile rationality, as both are involved in the process of transforming academic work and its actors. Productivism imposes an instrumentalized model of appreciation and production of knowledge and reduces this appreciation to the measure and academic activity to its products. According to Luz (2005, p. 43), by academic productivism it is understood “the quantum of intellectual production, mainly bibliographical, developed in a specific time, growing […] necessary to keep researchers in their statutory position in their scientific field” .

This whole process takes place in a context of growing economic globalization and neoliberalization of politics and its consequences in the ideological field, which affects all spheres of social and cultural life, reaching even the most subjective determinations.

From this perspective, it is of fundamental importance to understand how evaluation policies become an instrument of productivism that legitimize the logic of a formal order to which academic production must submit. And, with the establishment of a hierarchy of areas of knowledge, institutions, postgraduate programs – based on criteria that combine adaptation and control –, necessarily induce professors and researchers to adapt in search of a favorable evaluation .

Based on these assumptions, the theme of this work can then be structured. By identifying the scientific article as one of the most privileged means of building and communicating the knowledge produced at the university, the present work aims to understand how scientific activity is directed based on classifications that focus on results and products, influenced by a productivist model.

Based on this proposition, this work seeks to place, in the process of production and publication of knowledge, the role of the scientific article as one of the most privileged means in the evaluation processes of teaching work. It also discusses what are the constitutive determinations of the centrality of the scientific article, as the most valued product, in the Brazilian public university and how it becomes an academic commodity, which greatly affects the conditions of work and the teaching career.

It is, therefore, a theoretical study based on the analysis of productive work from a Marxist perspective and the documentary part, based on official documents from Mec and Capes that structured the changes in the evaluation processes of teaching work, from 1995 onwards. By pointing to a construct, this study allows discussing the socio-historical changes in the university environment, which transform the scientific article into merchandise in academic evaluation processes.


Neoliberalism, State reform and academic work

Neoliberalism and State reform”, in the context of globalization, determines economic changes from the 1990s onwards. These changes impose a productivist logic as a form of regulation in the global reorganization of the economy and work. As a result, productivity in the work process takes center stage in this form of capital accumulation, which alters the general conditions of production and the world of work.

Neoliberalization in the public university brought about significant changes in teaching work, materializing a certain type of productive work: scientific publication in the format of journal articles. The scientific article materializes from a process of homogenization of forms and values ​​and strengthens itself as an icon in the measurement of productivity assessment. Thus, the conceptions of evaluation that guide contemporary political interventions, Capes' performance in the implementation of an evaluation policy as an instrument of control of academic and scientific production, with the scientific article configuring itself as a form of merchandise in this process, are questioned.

Based on these themes and the available bibliography, this work aimed to reveal the mechanisms that raised the journal article to a level of marketing relevance in the academic environment.

By electing the protagonism of the scientific article in the evaluation process of teaching work, there is a need to understand how this process is configured in the academic environment. Transformations in internal and external policies for evaluating the intellectual production of professors and researchers point to a model guided by demands for products and services, which, in turn, define formats, rhythms, deadlines and funding. By identifying the evaluative characteristic of scientific articles published in journals with a high impact factor, the production of scientific knowledge starts to be based on the citation as a source of publication recognition, that is, as an indicator capable of assessing the influence of an article.

From this perspective, some questions arose: how did teaching work, in the 1990s, undergo profound changes in the structure, organization and management of the university, based on a reform of the State apparatus, which has neoliberal assumptions as its economic model ? How does the knowledge production process affect and redirect teaching work and intellectual production in Brazilian public universities? And, consequently, how does the scientific article become a highly valued product in the institutional and teaching evaluation process and materialize as a commodity?

In order to understand the rationality of the reforms imposed by the neoliberal model in the context of globalization – as well as to situate the introduction of the logic of productivity as a way of regulating the global reorganization of the economy and work –, it is necessary to review the country's recent history.

The notion of productivity is established from the establishment of evaluation models, as an essential need for the functioning of scientific production, for the outlining of previous results of researchers, departments and institutions. Academic performance is measured in numbers, as the focus of analysis; the need to publish is treated as a commodity, which starts to guide academic life, from an individual and institutional point of view.

From the perspective of Silva Jr. (2017, p. 87), professors and researchers are “being organized as a producer and consumer market for articles”, and “aim less at the socialization of knowledge and are characterized more as marketing of the product and the researcher himself”. Thus, the university locus privileged in the production of knowledge, it is urged to be part of the market economy, which is why the concepts of productivity or unproductivity are defined almost exclusively by the quantitative aspect.

The work at the university is resized from the publication of articles in widely circulated journals, which has laid the foundation for the construction of a consolidated and legitimized production about the objects of investigation. For Silva Jr. (2017, p. 88), it is not the agenda of a research that determines the production of the researcher/teacher, but rather a demand posed by the market and regulated by institutional policies, imposing that the academic work be published in qualified journals and in quantity significant.

The academic work is reconfigured, then, in the understanding of what teaching and research come to have under the organizational pattern: adapting the university, from a modernization proposal, to the capitalist logic, taking it as a service provider organization , governed by the ideas of quality, assessment and flexibility. Autonomy means, for Chauí (1999, p. 02), the “business management of the institution”.

And the author continues: “flexibilization is the corollary of autonomy”. Thus, flexibility means: (i) the elimination of the single work regime for teachers, making teaching precarious; (ii) simplification of financial management and accountability; (iii) the reformulation of undergraduate and graduate curricula to meet the demands of the labor market; and (iv) the decision to separate teaching and research.

The notion of quality is defined as competence and excellence, based on evaluation processes established by criteria for meeting the demands of economic and social modernization. This relationship is measured by productivity, which, in turn, is guided by the criteria of quantity, time and cost. However, productivity criteria do not question what is produced, how, why, or what is produced, operating an inversion of quality into quantity. Following the prevailing trend in the world of work, under flexible accumulation, teaching work is made more flexible, intensified and precarious to meet productivism. This is characterized by the continuous growth of products, in particular the ways of producing and publishing a growing number of articles in reputable journals in their specific field of activity. This intensifies the general tendency of this phase of capitalism to transform all types of goods into commodities.

The commodification of the professors' and researchers' work regime decisively affects the two main functions of the university: scientific research and higher education. Universities reconfigure academic work into a commodity knowledge production process, giving centrality to the scientific article. Understanding this process requires discussing the notion of work in Marx.

Understanding work as the only commodity that produces surplus value, it constitutes one of the means of valorization of capital, since, according to Marx, the relationship between worker and capitalist is unequal, even if apparently they have goods in equal conditions. The specific product of the capitalist mode of production is the surplus value generated by productive work, that is, the surplus work not received by the worker. The capital (or money) with which the capitalist buys labor power is constituted by dead labor and accumulated as capital. Capital made up of dead labor appropriates the physical strength of the worker to reproduce itself through the surplus value incorporated in the production of goods.

Based on these considerations, this work discusses the nature of the professor's work in public higher education institutions, based on their reconfiguration in which teaching and research come to be under the organizational pattern, taking them as a service provider organization, governed by the logic of academic productivism.

Based on this premise, research on the reforms that took place in the Brazilian public university over the last twenty years addresses the causes of the profound transformation in academic practice. For Silva Jr. and Pimenta (2016), the rationality of the mode of reproduction of capital, under the financial predominance, explains the gradual transformation of the Brazilian public university into one of the parts of the production of the service industry. With a type of scientific production, there is a predominance of the epistemology of the areas of knowledge that have greater power to add value to capital. It is in them that new working relations between capital-labor and surplus value are most established.

The university has become part of the service industry production. In addition to the valuation process, productivity at work is increased and, in the perspective of Antunes (2013), productive work is placed in places never before imagined. In the case of the postgraduate professor's work, knowledge is transformed into a value that can be added to a commodity in the production process. Immaterial labor, even if it is not dominant, becomes part of the value chain. Silva Jr. and Pimenta (2016, p. 176) point to the complex social division of work, contemporary times and the new relationship of immaterial productive work in the area of ​​services, research and technological development, “showing how much the teacher's work at postgraduate education is predominantly productive”.

The university begins to intensify its commitment to economic growth, by being operated from a commercial perspective, and with the reconfiguration of its institutional identity gestated in postgraduate studies, determined by Capes and CNPq and their actions of induction, regulation and control. Post-graduation is assumed as a reference for effective university reform, based on a model of evaluation and research induction, established by the naturalization of academic productivism, as well as by valuing the quantity of products to the detriment of the quality of the research process. For Sguissardi and Silva Jr. (2009, p. 62), such a process “consists in affirming that the core of the ideology of academic productivism, such as State policy and institutional culture, has as its most complete translation, in the philosophical sphere, pragmatism, and in the sphere of economy, the commodification of science and technological innovation”.

The notion of academic productivism is focused on mass production, based on an organizational productive pattern and visible technological advances based on the introduction of workforce management techniques typical of the informational phase. The discussion of productivism in intellectual production – which is not just a Brazilian process, but an international one – requires understanding the effective nature of intellectual work and the relationship between the means of production within the process of academic work.

Thus, over the last twenty years, institutional changes have promoted gradual alterations in the nature of academic work, in accordance with a model of globalized neoliberalization, which exalts the productivist logic through a process of commodification of academic products.

The consistent trajectory of increasing scientific production, which promotes respect from the academic community, is only consolidated through evaluation. In this sense, two opposing and irreconcilable movements appear in the production of knowledge: (i) the social, useful and transforming nature of the knowledge produced and its natural need for dissemination; and (ii) the imposition of the search for social recognition, on the part of the scientific community and funding agencies, leading to practices that are reduced to a hegemonic model.

The scientific article, whose natural objective is to convey research, is now overcome by the inductions of unbridled and fractional publication, to meet demands, policies and management, in addition to regulating academic production. The production and consumption of scientific articles – as with any commodity in globalized capitalism – present flows that move goods, services and knowledge. Practices of neoliberal ideas become naturalized in academic daily life, through continuous production, which need to be renewed indefinitely.

The productivist logic promotes the intensification of teaching work and pressure for the researcher to be equal to an entrepreneur in the private sector. For this, he has to compete for space in publications, in public notices, with the purpose of gaining recognition from the scientific community and advertising himself. By becoming a commodity, the scientific article seems to be endowed with an autonomy that controls its authors and impels them to work in the direction required by demands external to the knowledge production process. However, there is not room for everyone in the fight for publication in the most recognized publishing spaces, where only a few researchers reach the top of the pyramid.

Capes, despite not explicitly defining the notion of quality, promotes editorial practices conditioned by indicators evaluated by Qualis. It is possible to extract from the model that a quality scientific journal is one that has: recognition in its area of ​​expertise, wide circulation, indexing in nationally and internationally recognized databases, demand for publication of articles from the most different institutions. Thus, these factors guide the definition of quality in Brazilian scientific production, measured by Qualis indicators, which proposes to promote the scientific recognition of journals, although, in the evaluation process, only 25% of titles can reach the maximum evaluation, A1 .

Finally, it is clear that professors and researchers are facing a process of incorporating assumptions of a social organization that regulates scientific activity, in a more valued format. This is due to the structure present in the scientific article, which standardizes, measures and guarantees the reproduction of a form of knowledge, based on a system of control and regulation recognized by the current Brazilian Higher Education System.

*Maria das Graças Monteiro Castro Professor of Librarianship at the Federal University of Goiás.

Originally published in the magazine Scientific Interfaces.



ALCADIPANI, Raphael. Resisting Productivism: An Ode to Academic Disturbance. EBAPE.BR Cad., Rio de Janeiro, vol. 9, no. 4, Dec. 2011.

ANTUNES, Ricardo. The degradation of work in Brazil – interview [May 2013]. Interviewer: Cirley Ribeiro. São Paulo: TV Boitempo, 2013. (6 min 30s). Interview granted to Rádio Cultura. Available at:

BIANCHETTI, Lucidio; MACHADO, Ana Maria Netto. Teaching work in stricto sensu: publish or die. In: FIDALGO, F.; OLIVEIRA, MAM; FIDALGO, NLR The intensification of teaching work: technologies and productivity. Campinas, SP: Papirus, 2009. p. 49-89.

CHAUÍ, Marilena. “The operational university”. Newspaper. São Paulo, 9 May 1999. Caderno Mais.

LIGHT, Mandel. Prometheus chained: sociological analysis of the productivity category and the current conditions of academic life. Physis: Rev. Collective Health, Rio de Janeiro, v. 15, no. 1, p. 39-57, 2005.

SCHMIDT, Maria Luisa Sandoval. Academic evaluation, ideology and power. USP Psychology, Sao Paulo, vol. 22, no. 2, p. 315-334, 2011.

SGUISSARDI, Valdemar and SILVA JÚNIOR, João dos Reis. Intensified work at federal institutions: postgraduate studies and academic productivism. São Paulo: Shaman, 2009.

SILVA JUNIOR, João dos Reis. The new brazilian university: the search for marketable results: for whom? Bauru: Channel 6, 2017.

SILVA JÚNIOR, João dos Reis; PIMENTA, Alan Vitor. Financial dominance, world-class university and productive work. In: FERREIRA, Suely; OLIVEIRA, João Ferreira (Org.). Public universities: changes, tensions and perspectives. São Paulo: Mercado de Letras, 2016. p.159-177.

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[I] The unproductive at USP. Folha de São Paulo, São Paulo, p. A-2; 28-31, 21/02/1988. Available in: .

[ii] These were responses from intellectuals, published in Folha de São Paulo in the period from 24/02 to 18/03/1988:

(24/2) “Institutional evaluation and individual execration”, by Eunice Ribeiro Durham;

(24/2) “Profile of the unproductive teacher”, by Marilena Chaui;

(25/2) “False transparency”, by Francisco Weffort;

(26/2) “Maharajas and unproductive”, by Walter Colli;

(29/2) “Transparency covered by levity”, by Maria Tereza Leme Fleury;

(29/2) “Erramos”, by Rui de Brito Álvares Affonso;

(29/2) “The devastating effect of the unproductive list”, by Modesto Carvalhosa;

(1/3) “The strange case of employee X and teacher Y”, by Nicolau Sevcenko;

(1/3) “USP, the Sheet and the new civil society”, by Carlos Guilherme Mota;

(1/3) “Newspaper and university”, by Antônio Candido;

(3/3) “Commotion and evaluation at USP”, by Rogério Cezar de Cerqueira Leite;

(8/3) “Evaluating the evaluation”, by Newton Lima Neto;

(6/3) “The emperor strikes back”, by José Arthur Giannotti;

(10/3) “USP and science in Brazil”, by Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz;

(11/3) “After the Storm”, by Simon Schwartzman;

(11/3) “Gaps in a debate”, by Boris Schnaiderman;

(17/3) “Essence and appearance”, by Florestan Fernandes;

(15/3) “USP x Sheet – beyond indignation”, by Paul Singer;

(16/3) “Invective against barbarians 2”, by Maria Sylvia de Carvalho Franco;

(18/3) “The value of the new inquisition”, by Nestor Goulart Reis;

(18/3) “The intelligentsia and the others”, by Carlos Alberto Idoeta.

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