Florestan Fernandes – III

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Commentary on the theoretical and political legacy of Florestan's sociology

Florestan Fernandes's legacy for sociology is undeniable, not only for the content produced and the issues he clarified, but also because he continues to open new horizons for knowledge in view of impasses that have not yet been overcome. The reasons for this permanence are many: the paths of research and reflection that he opened, the scope of the research objects to which he dedicated himself in a decisively critical way, the resolute insertion in the public debate and his aversion to the myth of scientific impartiality, the position before the Eurocentrism and colonialism evidenced in the form of approach to lapidary themes of Latin American social thought, in addition to the names he formed and who continued to explore his clues and suggestions.

However, what circumscribed these characteristics, above all, was the relationship between the moments of Florestan's biographical trajectory and the gradual construction of his theoretical and methodological propositions. And, in this case, it is not a simple truism, as he did not seek to express the controversies between subject and object of knowledge by simply pointing the finger at possible extraneous limitations, but systematically and reflectively inserting his personal vicissitudes within the very interior of his scientific activity. .

Thus, what we know today as “reflexivity”, and which more recently became consolidated as one of the “modern” ways of methodical access to social reality and an integral part of the “objectivity” aimed at by the researcher, was already exercised by Florestan since his first writings.[I]. The sociologist, therefore, confuses himself with the original sociology he founded, and, at each step of his career, he would oppose, in remarkable episodes, the attempts to annul this basic guideline in the production of sociological knowledge, in confrontation with the illusion that it was possible to bypass the problematic relationship that the social scientist establishes with the society that seeks to know[ii], taking the teachings of Karl Marx, Karl Mannheim and Max Weber to their ultimate consequences.

This procedure, strange to the positivist postulates common to the period of institutionalization of the discipline in Brazil, and in countries like Mexico, Argentina and Chile[iii], allowed him both to deal with the personal circumstances of life and their psychic resonances and to excel in an arena frankly hostile to someone with the social background between those below, as Alfredo Bosi recalled on the occasion of the “Ato Presence of Florestan Fernandes”[iv]. The text that communicated this intimate requirement of the researcher in the process of knowledge with excellence was his well-known autobiographical reflection entitled In search of a critical and militant sociology[v].

There is a valuable index there, both for understanding his particular work and for the tasks of sociologists in general, in the various fields of research. One by one, the beacons of Florestan's sociology are being unveiled with the intention of elaborating an explanation of oneself that does not shy away from detailing the social conditions experienced on a daily basis and that show the weight of our origins, the belonging to a given social class. In the reconstruction of his life path, we thus glimpse many variables concerning intellectual struggles and the contingencies of dealing with institutions.

Nevertheless, these intricacies demonstrate his determination to maintain a close coherence throughout the work he produced, whether in the attitude of breaking with certain eccentricities of the mission French during the founding period of the Faculty of Philosophy and his willingness to try to gradually Brazilianize the activities then developed, whether in relation to the centrality of the collective work he undertook, which, although not always "harmonious" in the face of the tough competition for the meager available resources, would be the pillar of solidarity and frankness that fellow men and women on the academic journey could share and experience in the midst of research, debates, classes, conferences, seminars, trips, etc. Nothing, not even the event that had a profound and lasting impact on him, his compulsory retirement under the AI-5, in April 1969, would shake this theoretical edifice, on the contrary, it complemented it even more.

These epistemological and political demarcations by Florestan, again in accordance with the relationship between the individual in question and the social context of his personal development, naturally extrapolate the limits of this autobiographical text, and can be identified at other times, such as in the analysis of the personality structure by the Bororo Indian Tiago Marques Aipobureu[vi], under the impacts of the so-called “March to the West”; in the monumental reconstitution of tupinambá society[vii], through the functional relationship between the “social mechanisms of attribution of status” and the “socialized male personalities” for war; in considerations about the social and subjective impacts of the formation of Brazilian class society within the black communities that flocked to the capital of São Paulo in the years following slavery, and the reasons and effects of their precarious insertion in the “competitive social order”[viii], among others. In this way, we found that Florestan's theoretical stance anticipated several decades from different elements of the social theory that we cultivate today, and that did not fully extend to his contemporaries, such as the Argentinean Gino Germani, for example, and, much less, the Mexicans José Iturriaga and Lucio Mendieta y Núñez.

This meticulous and anti-dogmatic way of examining the links between the micro and macro levels in sociological studies is not restricted, however, to the observed abstraction modalities, to the slow composition of concepts and categories referred to a given society. It also affects the praxis of his sociology, rooted in his youth, when he approached Marxism and the socialist struggles against the Estado Novo, and in which his convictions about the need for broad and profound changes within our midst are clear, and that reach in a significant and persistent way the daily lives of the country's working classes. Gradually, therefore, an enthusiastic movement was formed on his part to face our most unworthy miseries and limitations, that is, to actively participate in the “destiny of our peoples”, in the expression of Agustín Cueva[ix].

Later, Florestan would join the Public School Defense Campaign, in 1960, to mobilizations for basic reforms, to the struggle for redemocratization, in addition to lending his prestige and knowledge to the activities of the National Constituent Assembly, having been reappointed in the subsequent legislature. In each of these events, one can see the same critical and objective spirit of the scientist Florestan, who refused, from the beginning, to benevolently adhere to power, to become an “organic intellectual of order”. It's because he had understood Brazil well, and, precisely because of that, he knew that there was still work to be done. task of transformation.

Despite not clearly outlining a political strategy for this purpose, Florestan indicates his certainty in the “rational control of social change”, that is, science as the driver of social processes with the greatest collective impact, in accordance with principles dear to human civilization. Immediately, we are left with a flea behind our ear, ready to charge him with a critique of instrumental reason. But Florestan knew the limits of “reason” very well, as he was immersed in them throughout his professional life, fighting, in fact, for the political leadership of the transformation by universities as a ideal, a goal to be achieved someday, an endeavor permanently scheduled:

“I advanced as far as I could and tried to do what seemed to me my duty, without making concessions to left and right. And with this I fought the true combat, albeit within the melancholy limits within which one can face the adversary. in e through of an institutional network of power built, maintained and streamlined to neutralize and destroy critical thinking, with all its direct and indirect radiation on militant intellectual activity”[X].

As we can see, there are many teachings by Florestan and this recognition is stamped in libraries, teaching and research institutions, academic centers and schools throughout Brazil. His texts and interventions are the parameters for properly evaluating his human figure and the sociology he practiced, which seem to invite us to a minimal journey through the themes, concepts and categories he elaborated as a response to problems and difficulties experienced by our society. Not just to get to know them, but to demand a reasoned and consistent position in relation to each one of them, collaborating, perhaps, to circumvent the collective illusion that “profound changes” have occurred in Brazil in recent decades, and, at the same time, to gain extra breath to face, once again, the evidence to the contrary that we have accumulated. For everything he continues to represent for Brazil and Latin America, save Florestan Fernandes!

*Fernando Lima das Neves he holds a PhD in sociology from USP.


[I]              Fernandes, Florestan. “The problem of method in sociological research”. Sociology, Sao Paulo, vs. 09, no. 04, 1947, p. 332-349.

[ii]            Fernandes, Florestan. “Sociological knowledge and political processes”. In: ______. Elements of theoretical sociology. São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, Edusp, 1970. p. 293-297.

[iii]           Trindade, Hélgio (coord.). Social sciences in Latin America in comparative perspective. Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 2007.

[iv]           Bosi, Alfredo. “Honoring Florestan Fernandes”. Advanced Studies, Sao Paulo, vs. 10, no. 26, 1996, p. 07-08. The homage was held in the USP University Council room on October 5, 1995, with several interventions. The excerpt follows: “To conform was for him to fall into conformism which is, as we know, a current effect of the law of gravity in the moral field; but his realism, because it was viscerally dialectical, could not renounce a good dose of idealism. Thus, he intended to square the circle and make the university serve, as he did, full time, not to the intellectuals who live or vegetate there, but to those who, as is known, did not have access to its assets; those he liked to name, with a strong Latin American expression, those below, title of a beautiful social novel by the Mexican Arzuela”.

[v]             Fernandes, Florestan. “In search of a critical and militant sociology”. In: ______. Sociology in Brazil: contribution to the study of its formation and development. Rio de Janeiro: Voices, 1977. p. 140-212.

[vi]           Fernandes, Florestan. “Tiago Marques Aipobureu: a marginal Bororo”. Municipal Archive Magazine, Sao Paulo, no. 107, p. 7-28, 1946.

[vii]          Fernandes, Florestan. The social organization of the Tupinambá. São Paulo: Instituto Progresso Editorial, 1949; and “The social function of war in Tupinambá society”. Magazine of the Paulista Museum, Sao Paulo, no. 06, p. 07-425, 1952.

[viii]         Fernandes, Florestan. The integration of black people into class society. Sao Paulo: FFCL-USP, Bulletin, no. 301, Sociology I, n. 12, 1964.

[ix]           Cueva, Agustin. “Reflections on Latin American Sociology”. In: Marini, Ruy Mauro; Millán, Márgara (eds.). Latin American social theory (selected texts). Volume III. Mexico City: Unam, 1995. p. 379-397.

[X]             Fernandes, Florestan. “In search of a critical and militant sociology”, op. cit., p. 141-142.

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