Social Sciences: from the perspective of the militant intellectual

Image: ColeraAlegria


I would never have been the sociologist I became without my past and without the preschool and out-of-school socialization I received through life's hard lessons. For better or for worse - without invoking the question of resentment, that conservative criticism launched against me — my academic background overlapped with a human background that it was unable to distort or sterilize. Therefore, even if this seems unorthodox and anti-intellectual, I say that I started my sociological learning at the age of six, when I needed to earn a living as if I were an adult and penetrated, through concrete experience, into the knowledge of what life is. human coexistence and society in a city in which the peck order, but prey ratio, by which the man fed on man, just as the shark eats sardines or the hawk devours small animals. The child was lost in this hostile world and had to go within himself to search the body techniques it is us wiles of the weak the means of self-defense for survival. I was not alone. There was my mother. But the sum of two weaknesses does not make up a strength. We were swept away by storm of life and what saved us was our wild pride, that had roots in the wild conception of the rustic world, prevailing in the small villages of the north of Portugal, where people measured up to the wolf and defended themselves with the help of the animal or another human being.

There is little interest in describing the variety of occupations I had to dedicate myself to or the fortunes and misadventures that dotted a childhood and adolescence so marked by the need to make a living, to seek in work — sometimes humiliating and degrading — an instrument of relationship with others and of sublimating pressure. Doing what I saw myself forced to do, I was also compelled to a constant search to overcome a condition in which the lumpen-proletarian (and not a worker) defined the limits or borders of what was not kind. Before studying this process in research on black people, I experienced it in all its nuances and magnitudes. The frontier that was denied me was also known through concrete experience. At the house of my godmother Herminia Bresser de Lima, where I lived during part of my childhood, or occasionally went to spend a few days; and at the house of my mother's other employers, I came into contact with what was be people and live like people. Furthermore, through various occupations, I lived in the household of employers a black family, another Italian and, partially, a Syrian-Lebanese family. In short, from traditional to modern, do domestic to foreign, I realized how big and complex the world was, and that nothing forced me to lock myself up in the confines of basements, tenements and rented rooms where I lived with my mother. Finally, the mobility imposed by my mother's jobs or the rise in rents exposed me to various neighborhoods in São Paulo and various types of neighbourhood. If I had little time to enjoy my childhood, I still suffered the human impact of life in small talk and had glints of light that came from the friendship that is formed through the companionship (in playgroups, neighborhood friends, colleagues who dedicated themselves to the same trade, such as street children, shoe shiners, meat delivery men, handymen, tailor apprentices and so on). The human character came to me through those cracks, through which I discovered that the big man it is not what is imposed on others from above or through history; it is the man who extends a hand to his fellow men and swallows his own bitterness to share his human condition with others, giving of himself, as my Tupinambá would do. Those who have nothing to share share their people with others - the starting and ending point of 'folk' philosophy within which I organized my first form of wisdom about man, life and the world.

This philosophy of folk it constituted the culture within which I moved, which was only supplemented by the practical knowledge required by the jobs I carried out, all of which were very rudimentary and of little technical or economic value. It existed in traditional or wealthy families, with which it interacted marginally or centrally; but it was among the poor that it prevailed, having its social support in the life of the neighborhoods. Thus, when interacting with children my age, with workmates, younger or older, and with people who were part of the neighborhood — and more especially at home or in contact with my uncles and grandparents, who lived in Bragança and with whom I occasionally spent some time — I became a typical poor resident of the city in the 20s, which was only urban by spatial location and tangential relationship with the work system. We were all rustic and uprooted, even those who came from the interior of the state of São Paulo, and we were all learning to live in the city, even those who, like me, were born within its landmarks and walls. The code of honor, the mentality, the notion of duty and loyalty, the imperative of solidarity, even the irreducible arrogance of those who are underneath did not come from civilization — as anthropologists like to say — nor the urban cosmos or the Catholic religion. It was all part of what I later learned to be culture of the uneducated and which the city had not yet destroyed. On the contrary, as the rich families moved and left their houses to the poor, when they became slums they served as strongholds for this culture (and also for the variety it assumed, thanks to the diverse national, ethnic and racial origins of the poor and dependent population). Even when the rich family rented the cellars, this reality did not change. Therefore, several cities they coexisted side by side, within the same urban space, which did not impose any cultural age, but horizontally harmonized the opposites that were tolerated without communicating. the ones that they weren't people or that formed the little people, crowding in the interstices, in the empty spaces and transition zones, or in the hideous giant slums — which I never got to live in — don't get urbanized, in terms of lifestyle. They found a niche within the city in which they maintained their small cultural citadels and their different standards of rusticity. Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, people from the interior and the immense list of the poor did not hide their humanity.


My plebeian socialization could be richer. However, the underworld in which he circulated, of shoeshine boys, meat delivery men, apprentices to barbers or tailors, bakery clerks, butlers, waiters, cook's assistants, etc., was enclosed within a poor circle. Its components did not follow workers' conflicts with ardor and often formed their own opinion through the people they served or sensationalist newspapers. A child or a teenager, within this underworld, already does a lot when he faces the negative pressure against intellectual curiosity. When I decided to take the maturity course, for example, I faced the rustic resistance of my mother, who thought I would be ashamed of her, if you studied; much worse was the misunderstanding and ridicule from my colleagues, who ridiculed my propensity for reading and my attachment to books, saying that I was going to end up with the soft core, from so much reading; practically incited me not to stop being like them and to cultivate ignorance as a virtue or servitude as a natural state of man. In the bars and restaurants where I worked, for example, I never received support or constructive advice from any colleague, my age or older, although among the customers I found sympathy, who gave me or lent me books, and even practical support to go further. If I learned from those men from my old occupations, it wasn't to change jobs or lives. It's just that, among them, I found people of value, who faced the hardships of life with serenity and had their standard of humanity: they knew be men and, on that level, they were incomparable masters, with all their rusticity, depreciation of literate culture and lack of understanding of their own interests and needs. It was from them that I received the second layer of socialization, which was superimposed on the previous one, through which I discovered that the measure of man is not given by occupation, wealth and knowledge, but by your character, a word that meant, for them, quite simply, to suffer the humiliations of life without degrading oneself.

The final touch of this preparation sui generis was given by the maturity course. While he was working at Bar Bidu, on Rua Líbero Badaró, the Ginásio Riachuelo was installed in the neighboring townhouse. Teachers went to the bar to have lunch after classes. I was always on the lookout for customers I could learn something from. I cultivated relationships with some of the professors — the most communicative and assiduous ones — and obtained a concession, through professor Jair de Azevedo Ribeiro, to study at a reduced rate. Thanks to Manoel Lopes de Oliveira Neto, one of the customers I had become friends with, I found another job (as a delivery boy for the Novoterapica Laboratory); and thanks to the support of Ivana and José de Castro Mano Preto, linked to my late godmother, a small marginal help (which, later, became a permanent bed and board), the study problem has been reduced to the simplest expression. Leaving the bar and having a new opportunity, at that time (1937), was something remarkable. The prejudices against this kind of people reached such proportions that, not even with the support of Clara Augusta Bresser, my godmother's sister, I ever managed to find another kind of job. The least one thought about that kind of people, yeah that we were thieves or scumbags!… O lumpen-proletarian he was, therefore, the main victim of his servitude and his allegiance to the established order. We came, in my mental architecture at that time, just below the professional thieves and the bums, the prostitutes and the soldiers of the Public Force. The iron circle was broken and, with the new job, I could support my mother and pay for my studies. Concrete experience, on the other hand, had not been useless to me. In research with Bastide, on race relations in São Paulo, I could say why the inability to obtain a position in the city's occupational system weighed so negatively on the history of the black milieu in the long and painful transition from slave labor to free labor.


After joining the University of São Paulo, he could not continue with Novoterapica, where he would have to work all day. For this and other reasons, even before finishing the maturity course, I had transferred to other firms, first as an employee, later as a commission salesman, in which I operated, in the city or in neighboring municipalities, with dental products. Then, as the financial burdens were great, I started working as a propagandist in a laboratory based in Rio de Janeiro, which produced Iodobisman and Tropholipan, two well-received products. I had a reasonable salary, I had more time to attend classes and study than the employing company could suspect and I had contact with the medical sector. Thus, from the liberal professions I learned about various problems that dentists and doctors faced and I acquired a very realistic view of what was going on for the poor and dependent sector of the population, in terms of dental, medical and hospital assistance. What matters, in this passage, is to clarify that I had a means of maintenance and that I could apply for higher education, as long as I chose part-time courses. Around the beginning of the XNUMXs, there were no night courses at USP; my field of choice was therefore restricted to the Faculty of Law and some courses at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters. I intended to take, I don't remember why — if I ever found out — the chemical engineering course at the Polytechnic. However, I would have to be a full-time student, which was impossible for me as I had to maintain the house. The choice of Social and Political Sciences was due to the opportunities that coincided with my deepest intellectual interests. In case, the choosing a profession almost didn't count. He wanted to be a teacher and could achieve this goal through various courses. My vague socialism led me to think that I could reconcile the two things, the need to have a profession and the reformist desire to change society, whose nature I didn't know well, but it pushed me to choose alternatives. I decided on the social sciences section of the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters. This one inherited a city ​​animal, in the process of intellectual development and self-discovery. Following the current view, one could write: the lumpen-proletariat arrives at the University of São Paulo. However, it was not lumpen-proletariat who got there; it was me, the son of a former laundress, who would not tell the city of São Paulo now we, like a famous Balzac character. I carried with me pure intentions, the ardor to learn and, who knows, to become a secondary school teacher.

My intellectual baggage was the product of the strange crossing of forced self-education with short compact learning, carried out through the Riachuelo (1). Thanks to a privilege established by article 100 of the maturity courses, I could either apply for the pre-selection exams, subordinated to the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters, or take the qualification exams for the section of social sciences and policies. In the first hypothesis, I would have done five years in three; in the second, seven years in three. Though unsure, on the advice of friends I undertook both things simultaneously; and got approval in both cases. This meant: that I had nullified the disadvantage of the delay with which I had begun my secondary studies, even without completing primary school; and that, by prevailing standards, my potential ability was at least comparable to that of colleagues who had followed the normal course. In fact, both I and they were a long way from the demands or requirements of the teaching we were going to face.

The gaps in training and information were immense, so to speak. encyclopedic, and clearly incurable. The foreign professors, who gave their classes in their own language, did not take these shortcomings into account and acted as if we had an intellectual base equivalent to that which could be obtained through French, German or Italian secondary education. The courses were monographs — only Professor Hugon, as far as I remember, was in the petit a, petit b, of basic education, and was, for this reason, ridiculed in public by Professor Maugué. Assistant professors followed suit, waging a relentless war on manuals and the general education. Due to the organization of the courses, this would be the function of the pre, where we should acquire basic knowledge. Candidates for social sciences, for example, took a written exam and an oral exam in sociology (in the oral argument, in front of the two Bastides and another professor I don't remember, it fell to me to discuss an excerpt from De la division du labor social). But we all knew that the pre did not fulfill that function and that the car walked ahead of the two, crushing the students. Which imposed a paradoxical way out: resorting to intensive self-education, sometimes supervised and guided by subjects! O leap in the dark it was the rule; the game, however, was clean, although the challenge was tremendous. Just to give an example: my work with Professor Roger Bastide, in the first half of 1941, was about the crisis of causal explanation in sociology. I gathered as much as possible the available bibliography in the Municipal Library and in the Faculty's Central Library. I got a grade of four and a half, with a pious comment from the professor: what he expected was a dissertation, not a report. This experience taught me that I must either give up or submit to a monastic labor discipline. I opted for the second solution and, little by little, I gained greater intellectual elasticity. From the end of the second year and into the third year, I was able to compete with any colleague, to take advantage of that sui generis pedagogical assembly and to respond to the demands of the situation as a student applied ou talented. In short, despite my origins, I managed to overcome the intellectual barriers and to have success as and as a student.

From this stage, the importance of the socialization through work, linked to the practical activities I carried out to earn a living (which were maintained until 1947, more than two years after I was hired as assistant to the chair of Sociology II at the Faculty of Philosophy). It's not that the contact with dentists, doctors, nurses and some colleagues who became more or less intimate friends were irrelevant, from the point of view of enriching my person or discovering new worlds, that were previously hidden from my perception. On the contrary, they had enormous significance and even helped me to free myself from old inevitable complexes and to acquire greater independence in the conception of my social roles, my human possibilities and, above all, a crude naivety, incompatible with the city as a way of life. The point is that those hands-on activities became eccentric to what became, absorbingly, my central aim. They were a mere instrument of maintenance, in immediate terms, to achieve another purpose in the longer term. That one it wasn't 'my' world. I had discovered myself and, at the same time, I felt a dormant vocation growing within me, which gave me strength and insight to accept the challenge of becoming a teacher and an intellectual. At first, things weren't very clear to me. But already in the second year of the course I knew very well what I wanted to be and I concentrated on craft learning — therefore, I did not compare myself to the baby, who begins to crawl and talk, but to the apprentice, who transforms the master craftsman into a provisional model. The culture of my foreign masters intimidated me. I thought I could never match them. The standard was too high for our provincial capabilities — for what the environment could support — and especially for me, with my precarious intellectual background and the material difficulties I faced, which took up a great deal of my time and my activities. energies of what you would like to do. However, as I proposed to be a high school teacher, the frustrations and obstacles did not interfere with my possible performance. The challenge was worked on psychologically and, in fact, reduced to its simplest expression: the direct demands of classes, tests and assignments. With that, my intellectual and human horizon was impoverished. However, I could not overcome myself and solve my concrete problems without this simplifying reduction, which corrected itself as I progressed as a student and acquired a new psychological stature. In short, the Vicente that I was was finally dying and being born in its place, frighteningly to me, the forestan that I would be.

This modest adaptation was very helpful to me. In the initial phase, when I was recycled to be a university student, because it urged me to start with the foundations, with the ABC of the social sciences. I did not fall into the trap of those who condemned the manuals. I had the good sense to seek in them a general basis — which was not given to us through the eclectic and monographic courses, preferred by most masters — and to leave the point of arrival open, which I did not know what it might be. At the same time, it established a truce between my fear of failure and the intimidation that resulted from the high academic level of foreign professors, which created a discouraging psychological barrier within the very axis on which our learning gravitated. In the phase in which I started to fly with greater intellectual autonomy, because I didn't become a victim of the passage, more or less quick for everyone, from fascination to disappointment. Foreign professors, for the most part — not all of them — were really big for us. Seen on their own country's scale of values ​​- and we had to get to it and absorb it - if they weren't mediocre, they counted among the figures of second or third magnitude. Even the handouts of a man as famous today as Lévi-Strauss were not impressive. Elementary books such as Cuvillier's Little Introduction or Ginsberg's Brief Treatise went much further. The fact is that one could not read the classics, ancient or recent — from Montesquieu and Rousseau to Comte, from Marx to Durkheim, Tönnies and Weber, or from Mannheim, Mauss, Simiand, Cassirer, Dilthey, Giddings to Cooley, Ogburn, Park, Znaniecki, Laski, Sorokin and so many others — without suffer this paradoxical evolution, which exposed us to cruel melancholic reflections. Furthermore, much of the brightness and meaning of that teaching led to a pedagogical void. The lack of university intellectual dynamism delivered us to that relationship in terms of absolute: if they don't give us and if we don't, consequently, be the best, what good is the refinement of a dilettante and decadent European culture or a fake North American culture, as borrowed as ours? Some colleagues, such as Benedito Ferri de Barros and Laerte Ramos de Carvalho, did not stop brooding over these mishaps, attacking, sometimes openly and frankly, the intellectual puritanism that led me to an apparent one-eyed adjustment. My protective adaptation was taking me in another direction. I was in the time of sowing: whatever the relative magnitude from my masters, I had something to learn from them and what they taught either transcended my limits or helped me to build the my starting point. It was up to me to seize the opportunity. The reading of Mannheim, in particular, which had already begun with intensity at the beginning of 1942, convinced me that critical consciousness, in order to be creative, does not need to be dissolving.


The issue was having access to teachers outside of formal classroom contacts. I didn't know how to do it and, what's worse, I couldn't speak French or Italian. As he also did not have a family's name, I disappeared into the small number, as if I were lost in an enormous mass of students. However, as I had decided to concentrate the best of my efforts on the assignments, it was then, unexpectedly, that the doors to interviews in person and at the homes of those professors were opened. During 1941 I devoted myself most earnestly to two of these works. One, which had been passed down by Professor Paul Hugon, about The evolution of foreign trade in Brazil, from Independence to 1940; and another, which had been requested by Professor Roger Bastide, about The folklore in São Paulo. With Professor Hugon everything evolved naturally and very quickly. He himself called me and told me that he considered that I had, there, the starting point for a doctoral thesis. He made himself available to guide me and, upon learning of my difficulties, he also informed me that he would find me a job more in line with my aspirations and possibilities. In fact, on returning from France after the holidays, he called me again. He managed to get me accepted by Roberto Simonsen, in a group of young people who worked directly for him. This baffled me and forced me to make a first decision. It seemed to me that if I took that job, it would turn me into what I thought to be, in my naiveté, a intellectual camel, someone who does not use his own intelligence for himself, but sells it to others. I politely declined and we became close friends, without Professor Hugon giving up on the doctoral plan he had devised. Contacts with Professor Bastide were slower and, in fact, provoked by me. For a recent egress from the mindset of the culture of folk, that research was fascinating. I threw myself at her with the flutter of a first love. The intellectual baggage was deficient, as professor Lavínia da Costa Vilela had limited herself to introducing us to some basic concepts of Sébillot and Saintyves. project the folklore into internal social environment. Given my self-taught origins, it was very easy for me to work on a wide bibliography, existing in the Municipal Library, in the Central Library of the Faculty (in which Mr. Raspantini helped me a lot) and in the Library of the Faculty of Law. Due to my recent life experience, I knew where to collect the data and how. Therefore, I made a survey and analysis that were above what could be expected from an achievement paper and, in particular, from a first-year student. However, after a hard effort, he wanted at least psychological compensation. She didn't come. Professor Lavínia gave me a nine and, as I insisted on a critical debate, she advanced the opinion, with which I did not agree, that I had gone too far in the sociological treatment of folklore. I waited for Professor Bastide to return and demanded a definition from him: I didn't care about the grade, I wanted a serious critique of the work. He was surprised. 'How, is there a monograph on the folklore of São Paulo? She interests me a lot'. I gave him the job a few days later. Not long after, he invited me to his house. He told me that he was willing to correct the note, which he thought was unfair (which I refused) and made precious comments about the sociological interpretation of the data, demonstrating that I had taken a correct track and that it could be explored even more widely. . Upon learning of my difficulties, he also offered to get me an intellectual-type job. He took me to Sérgio Milliet and he had the good sense to decide: if Florestan starts working here, at the Municipal Library, he buries any career that his talent could open for him. As an alternative, he made himself available to me to publish the articles he wanted to write in The state of Sao Paulo. Professor Bastide, however, did not stop there. He took the work to professor Emílio Willems and asked for its publication in the magazine Sociology. Days later, Dr. Willems called me. He had no way to publish such a large work in the magazine. But he instructed me to write smaller works, which he would publish, and was highly critical of data collection. For the first time I saw what the difference was between the amador and the professional, o apprentice and the teacher; and I believe I took full advantage of the lesson, which would serve as a point of reference in my way of understanding and practicing systematic empirical research as a sociologist. In the same year, 1942, my first article appeared in the magazine Sociology. As for the collaboration for the STATUS (and almost simultaneously to the Morning Sheet), would only start the following year, after overcoming the fear of facing the general public. Bastide became, from then on, my main teacher and one of my best friends. Hugon and Willems, in turn, gave me the attention that, at that time, was only given to students of recognized talent, who enjoyed an ambivalent intellectual position, halfway between friend, protégé and future colleague. Like Joseph in Pharaoh's court, I had the wit to fortify my destiny, grabbing luck by the hair.


It was through teaching and research, however, that I completed my sociological training. Between 1942 and 1945 I carried out several small surveys (such as a study on the manifestations of color prejudice in Sorocaba and the cult of João de Camargo; a quantitative analysis of competition between liberal professionals in São Paulo, based on identifications extracted from telephone directories; a survey, through questionnaires, of the rural population of Poá, in which I had the collaboration of Oswaido Elias Xidieh; a certain participation in the research of Dr. Willems, on Cunha, in which I was in charge of studying certain aspects of the folklore or of the sexual life of the community and helped with the collection of anthropometric data; an exploration of sixteenth-century data on Tupi contacts with whites in São Paulo, research that I was supposed to do with Dr. Donald Pierson but which we interrupted prematurely, a critical balance of contributions that Gabriel Soares and Hans Staden could contribute to the study of the social life of the Tupinambá and their contacts with the whites); and in 1944, thanks to the commitment and selfless collaboration of Jamil Safady, he began research on the acculturation of Syrians and Lebanese in São Paulo (on which I worked for almost four years and which was set aside due to lack of material resources, in addition to other reasons). In short, I went trained in many ways to be a researcher. That extensive experience, however, does not say it all. The 1941 research (partially supplemented in 1944) on folklore and the systematic survey of known data on the Tupinambá (started in 1945 and completed in 1946) constitute a milestone in my sociological preparation. As for folklore, I revisited the collected materials several times to submit them to an in-depth analysis. The work that meant the most to me was what I wrote about the pranks from Bom Retiro. For the first time, I found myself facing the tasks of materialize quality rebuild the socio-dynamic bases of group life. Not only did I have the opportunity to move from the abstract plane to the concrete plane in the use of concepts, hypotheses and theories; I had to formulate on my own the questions that the sociologist has to answer when he empirically examines the structure and functions of the social group at the various levels of human life. Therefore, this small work represented, for me, a passage from didactic initiation to scientific research, and I owe him, in terms of learning, much more than I owed to the courses I had previously attended. I then formed my own training on the analysis of empirical data; and I learned why empirical reconstruction is not enough for sociological explanation: the facts they do not speak for themselves. It is necessary to interrogate them and, for that, some mastery of the theoretical framework involved is essential. The old reader of Simiand has returned to the fundamental requirement — neither theories without facts nor facts without theories — in the light of a new perspective, born of precarious research, it is true, but very rich in consequences for my maturation as a sociologist-researcher.

However, it was through studying the Tupinambá that I felt compelled to go much further. Not only was the research not an improvised experience, despite being my first intimate contact with historical reconstruction. The Tupinambá confronted me, as Mauss would say, with the need to explain a civilization, as demonstrated by The social organization of the Tupinambá. I was forced to mobilize all the knowledge I could accumulate about empirical techniques and research logics. And I had to broaden my knowledge of primitive societies in order to understand, describe and explain the structures and dynamics of tribal society. I found myself questioning, at the same time: the chroniclers and their empirical contributions to the systematic study of the Tupinambá; my capacity (and limitations) as a researcher; the inference-forming and theory-building techniques he could use; sociological and anthropological theories about social structure and social organization; the social frameworks of conquest, the enslavement of indigenous populations, the expropriation of land by the Portuguese and the decimation of the natives. In fact, if I was already a caterpillar when I started the investigation, when I finished it I had become a butterfly. I discovered that no sociologist is able to do his job before going through all stages of a complete research project, in which it moves from data collection to its criticism and analysis, and then to the interpretative treatment itself. Those who reject the community study or case study so obstinately they ignore this pedagogical side of scientific training through systematic empirical research. A single investigator can hardly go further than I had tried to go, though I am left with the frustration of discovering that one never actually arrives at an account of all the accumulated and verified knowledge. With this research, I not only obtained a master's degree in social sciences: I reached the stature of an artisan who dominates and loves his craft, because he knows how to practice it and what it is for. It helped me to modify my conception of sociology and the nature or scope of sociological explanation. I could link myself to a tradition of scientific thinking in a more critical way, which would lead me to refuse empirical reconstruction as the final target and to see theoretical contribution as the central objective of sociological research. That way, I entered the sphere of problems of induction in sociology with a more solid background, which allowed me to inquire how one passes from the facts to theories, and forced me to demand of the sociologist something more than a well done description of reality.

This did not mean that teaching experience was of lesser importance to me. On the contrary, the classroom would soon become, in terms of intellectual formation and maturation, a kind of equivalent of the laboratory. In the beginning, due to insecurity and lack of time (the chair of Sociology II was only incorporated into the full-time regime in 1947), I somewhat neglected the preparation of classes. How he was doing several things simultaneously—and with two jobs! — tended to reduce the relative weight of the didactic workload and poorly exploited the pedagogical potential of the relationship with the student as a real path to self-improvement. Gradually, however, a passion for didactic tasks grew within me and, specifically, as part of the complex learning situation they engender, whereby the teacher almost always learns, thanks to and through the classroom, more than the teacher himself. student. This is paradoxical. But it is an elementary truth. Like the researcher, the professor needs to reduce previously accumulated knowledge to what is essential and, more than the researcher, he must face the duty of exposing such knowledge in a clear, concise and elegant way. No matter how small the student's aggregating potential in the learning process may be, teaching, in itself, is instructive and creative for the teacher, regardless of the pleasure of teaching or what can learn from the student. Upon reaching this level, teaching lost, for me, the character of a burden and the relationship with the students became highly provocative and stimulating for my theoretical progress as a sociologist. Indeed, before the evaluations of my little writings and books were felt, it was the students who discovered and recognized the my value, offering me a psychological base of self-affirmation and fundamental relative security for the elimination of old scars, ambivalences and hesitations. Students were always generous with me and always responded constructively to what I intended to do, practically from the beginning of my teaching career, helping me to mold myself according to an image of the teacher that transcended the possibilities of the traditional Brazilian higher school.

The initial phase was tough for me and the students. Like all young professors, I was not prepared to teach undergraduate courses. These courses, at an introductory level, require long-term teachers who are mature in dealing with the subject and teaching. Well, I was also relearning. As a result, with the exception of a semester course of critical commentary by The rules of sociological method, that I gave in 1945, I taught courses that were inevitably indigestible, in which my points of arrival became us starting points of students. I tended to bring my mental brew into the classroom and spared no one. I did not intend to impose myself above the sociologist apprentice. Nevertheless, the questions that consumed me were unloaded on the students without mercy, with a devastating impact. If they learned a lot about the most important sociological currents, on the other hand they had to accept a tremendous and tempestuous intellectual exhaustion, which I did not spare myself nor did I intend to spare them. Many dropped out of courses or found sociology very difficult. Those who stayed, however, broke with me the ground to explore and ended up feeling the true seduction that sociological thinking is capable of provoking in creative minds. Several of them would later become competent sociologists and my colleagues. I don't know what they think of my scientific fanaticism and mine inveterate sociologism nor how they assess the precariousness of the learning paths we took together, with so much intellectual ardor. But I believe that this period would not have been as fruitful for me if it had not jammed the classes and made the students face, in my company, the ups and downs of the sociological debates in which I involved them.

Gradually, this troubled and disturbed type of teaching disappeared: by digesting my readings and by better understanding my own teaching functions, I became a more experienced and competent teacher. So, I could now face the student and the teaching of sociology in another way, overcoming the predatory commensalism of the initial phase. My field of choice expanded and I embarked on a new experience, through which I would associate the exploration of various fields of sociology with my teaching tasks. Thanks to the growth and improvement of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology itself, it became possible to understand, albeit rudimentaryly, the frontiers of productive and inventive work in the area of ​​reading and research for the sphere of teaching. How introductory courses became formative, teaching them meant acquiring a greater mastery over the basic knowledge of sociology. At the same time, monographic courses — determined above the individual preferences of teachers — emerged as an advantageous alternative for professional self-fulfillment.


All of this indicates that, at the beginning of the 50s, the formative period was coming to an end and, at the same time, revealing its ripe fruits. I was just finishing writing The social junction of war in Tupinambá society and he had the conditions not only to collaborate with Bastide in a research as complex as the one we did on black people in São Paulo, but to be in charge of planning it and writing the research project. We were in a new era for me, and my responsibilities were undergoing a rapid transformation, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Thanks to the transfer to the chair of Sociology I (made official in 1952) and then to the contract as a professor replacing Roger Bastide, I found myself facing the opportunity to have an institutional position to put into practice the concepts that had formed the regarding the teaching of sociology and sociological research. I converted this chair into a spinning top to achieve ends that are inaccessible to the isolated professor and researcher. Like d'Artagnan, upon arriving in Paris, I was willing to fight anyone who said that we are not capable of imposing the our brand to sociology. To the ancient symbol of Made in France I intended to oppose made in Brazil. I wasn't looking for a close Brazilian sociology. Rather, it intended to implement and establish work standards that would allow us to reach the our way of thinking sociologically and the Wow contribution to sociology. The facts would show that this was possible, that I had not forged a pure professional utopia. Because for almost fifteen years (from 1955 to 1969) — during which I held the chair of Sociology I — my collaborators and I demonstrated, through intense and fruitful intellectual activity, that this possibility can be proved in practice. The difficulties inherent in a static university, the absence of scientific tradition, the scarcity of material resources, the country's extreme cultural dependence and the reactionary interference of conservative thought did not prevent us from carrying out highly complex teaching and research programs, which established our scientific reputation, in academic circles and beyond. Our effort cannot and should not be isolated from what other Brazilian sociologists have done. However, it was seen, here and abroad, as an index of intellectual autonomy and independent creative capacity. What fueled the myth of São Paulo School of Sociology and it conferred on us a prestige that survived the purge we suffered.

*Florestan Fernandes é Professor Emeritus of the Department of Social Sciences at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP.


1 As for the pre-selection exams, which were very competitive (perhaps the proportion was ten candidates for one vacancy), I was approved in second place. With regard to the social sciences qualifying exams, there were thirty vacancies and only twenty-nine applicants. In the selection, however, only six were qualified (I was the fifth). Then two more entered through the second season exams. As two dropped out, our group was made up of six, with the addition, later, of a student who had transferred from Rio de Janeiro.

2 Riachuelo Gym

Florestan Fernandes' intellectual autobiography seemed to the Editors to be the deepest probe ever made in order to understand the facts and values ​​that marked the solidification phase of the Social Sciences courses at the former Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters. We transcribe some steps from it, but we invite the reader to know it in its entirety. The text was extracted from: Florestan Fernandes — Sociology in Brazil, 2nd ed., Petrópolis, Vozes, 1980, p. 142-179.

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