The sociologist at the University



A reflection on the political aspect of teaching activity

Preamble – the university as the main professional destination for sociologists

In 1968, in an introductory sociology course for a large and beginner audience, the German philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno, in an advanced stage of his career and teaching what would become his last academic course, made a pessimistic observation, namely: Professional prospects for sociologists are poor. To justify the pessimistic scenario, Adorno (2008, p. 43-44) evokes two reasons that, in a relational way, were verified in the context of the course held in Germany.

On the one hand, professional perspectives were not promising due to the slow and gradual increase in the number of graduates; the author provides data on the increase, which jumped from 30 students in 1955 to 626 in 1968. On the other hand, expectations require caution from students because the absorption capacity of sociologists in the market is reduced even more during a period of economic recession , in the midst of which German society was found in the context of the course taught at the University of Frankfurt.

Even in the United States of America, “the paradise of sociology”, says Adorno in his course, it cannot be said that graduates in sociology find jobs everywhere and without much effort. The observation of the author of critical theory can help us to reflect on the current situation of sociology as a profession in Brazil, a country in which the number of students in higher education has increased significantly since the 1970s (cf. MARTINS, 2000) and the which currently experiences a significant economic recession after the period of relative strength in the first decade of the XNUMXst century.

According to Adorno (2008), sociology had, at the time, an essentially formative role, which gave rise to a contradiction: on the one hand, the need and desire for education; on the other, the possibilities of professional employment. The desire for training would be justified by the desire and need to understand society, to orientate oneself in it - sociology would thus be a kind of spiritual resource through which one hopes to account for the alienation existing in the social world, to protect oneself her.

However, as the individual pursues the objective of training, he may distance himself from the practical purposes of society, that is, in relation to his professional requirements. The difficulty of sociology would then be to bring together such divergent aspirations: to carry out, on the one hand, socially useful work and, on the other, to acquire intellectual orientation, since we are always facing an obvious paradox - the more one understands society, the more difficult it is to make yourself useful to her through a job.

Bearing in mind our objective, which is to reflect on the political connotation of the sociologist's teaching activity in higher education, we emphasize the relevant finding by Adorno (2008, p. 44) that the main destination of sociologists is the university, which he qualifies as “incubator of sociologists”. Also in Brazil, universities – in which teaching and research functions merge – can become one of the main professional destinations for sociologists.[I] Sociology would thus be somehow doomed to self-reproduction. In a broader spectrum, what are, however, the sociologist's competences and what can their occupations effectively be?

In Law nº 6.888, which regulates the profession of sociologist (and social scientists, in general) in Brazil, published on December 10, 1980 by then-president João Figueiredo, we read that it is the competence of the sociologist[ii]: (i) elaborate, coordinate, execute and analyze researches, works, programs and projects related to the social reality; (ii) teach General or Special Sociology in teaching establishments; (iii) advise and provide consultancy to companies, direct or indirect public administration bodies, entities and associations related to social reality; (iv) participate in the elaboration, direction, execution and evaluation of any work, research, program or global, regional or sectorial project, referring to the social reality.[iii]

In possession of such competences established by law, the sociologist can then act in the following areas of work: (i) teaching (basic and higher education); (ii) in different forms of research, namely: scientific, social, electoral, market and public opinion; (iii) with the formulation of public policies; (iv) advising political parties; (v) in trade unions and social movements; (vi) in consultancy for companies; (vii) and also in the coordination and evaluation of various social projects.

As can be seen, in addition to educational institutions, the sociologist can find employment in various positions in public administration (at a federal, state or municipal scale), in research institutes (public or private), in consulting companies and in different sectors, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In general terms, such are the professional possibilities for the sociologist or the social scientist trained in public and private colleges or universities. But where can trained social scientists and sociologists be today?

Several studies (cf. note 2) show that there is a significant number of social scientists trained and active in various segments of the profession, remaining invisible due to the mainly academic model of the discipline. It is worth mentioning that, since the 1960s, the idea has spread that sociologists should also occupy a place in public administration and research companies, despite a certain hostility from higher education, which criticizes commercial research through its more academic conception. of the profession. According to this perspective, everything happens as if non-academics were a kind of “impaired sociologists” or “minor”, ​​feeling deviant in relation to the “true sociologists”, who inhabit the university environment and thus work in higher education.

In fact, since the regulation of the profession in 1980, there has been this division: for university students, sociology is not a profession like any other, but an “academic profession”, an “area of ​​knowledge” whose value is intrinsic, beyond any instrumental and pragmatic application; for non-academics, the regulation of the profession would be a way of delimiting the exclusive occupational territory, of obtaining specific hiring of sociologists also in the bureaucracy and state administration. This perspective is in line with the emergence of Social Sciences in Brazil, since both the Free School of Sociology and Politics, founded in 1933, and the University of São Paulo, founded in 1934, were concerned with the training not only of teachers and from the researcher, but also from “technicians with administrative competence” (cf. Braga, 2011, p. 105) – all of them with theoretical and methodological background.

The fact is that the professional destiny of sociologists and social scientists, in general, is quite heterogeneous and diffuse. For example, in his study on graduates from USP, Unicamp, PUC-SP and PUC-Campinas, between the years 1970-2005, Braga (2011) presents the following data regarding their occupational distribution: 27,4% work in teaching ; 15,1%, in the public area (inside and outside the sociologist career); 12% work as researchers and/or fellows; 8% are in other careers outside the public sector (management positions, in research companies, technicians in NGOs and companies, etc.); 3,6% act as consultants; 12,6% perform other professions; 5,5% became entrepreneurs (which also represents another profession); 8,5% operate sales, services and/or other activities (all outside the area); and 7,3% are retired, unemployed or in “others”, according to the classification adopted in the survey.

Notwithstanding the geographical restriction of the present study, a relative concentration of sociologists and social scientists in teaching and research activities can be seen. In other words, despite the notable dispersion of social scientists in various other sectors of activity, as the studies mentioned above also show, we can state that, to a certain extent, the professional destiny of sociologists tends to reside mainly in teaching and research. , so that the university can become – in line with Adorno's (2008) finding – a privileged place for professionals in the area to work.


The political aspect of the sociologist's teaching activity in higher education

Considering that the professional destiny of sociologists tends to reside significantly in universities, we intend, at this moment, to reflect on how the sociologist (and the professor, in general) can act in higher education taking into account the persistent problem - and resumed in the current context in an exacerbated and controversial way – regarding the axiological neutrality of teaching activity.

In 1917, Max Weber (1971) – considered, as is known, one of the classic authors and founders of Sociology as a scientific discipline – gave the famous conference “Science as a vocation” at the University of Munich. In it, the eminent German intellectual addresses – among other recurring themes in his work, such as rationalization, disenchantment of the world, bureaucracy, specialization and scientific activity – the role of the teacher in the classroom in the face of the issue of axiological or evaluative neutrality[iv]. The basic premise of this conceptual expression is that the researcher's scientific activity and the professor's pedagogical activity must strictly distance themselves from value judgments. It is about separating exclusively impersonal and objective activities – such as teaching and research – from personal and subjective values.

With regard to research, the German intellectual points out, however, that the value judgment is present from the selection of the theme, which is carried out from the researcher's own and unique perspective. Hence one of the reasons why Weber (2001a) writes the term “objectivity” between quotation marks in the title of his 1904 article written for the Revista Archive for Sozialwissenchaft and Sozialpolitik (Archive for Social Science and Social Policy). It is, therefore, a matter of opposing the positivism – methodologically naive, in his eyes – of Émile Durkheim (1984), which believes to effectively reach the objectivity of the social fact. In any case, after choosing the topic, it is with scientific rigor and intellectual probity that the scientist must proceed with his research, putting into motion the sense of axiological neutrality. But what about the teacher, how should he teach in the classroom?

The author is categorical: in the classroom, the pedagogical principle par excellence resides in axiological neutrality. In university classrooms, argues Weber (1971, p. 183) in his lecture, “no other virtue is valid than simple intellectual integrity”. The German intellectual's insistent statements about the “magisterial situation” are unequivocal in relation to his thesis that the professor – like the scientist – must exempt himself from value judgments in his activity. To students looking for leaders, saviors or prophets, the lecturer advises that the university chair is not the appropriate place for their demands[v].

the author of Economy and Society deepens the theme by problematizing the issue in the situation in which teaching focuses mainly on the social, political, cultural and economic structures of society. Even in such a case, with which the sociologist in higher education is naturally concerned, politics should also not enter the classroom, assures Weber (1971, p. 172). "Taking a practical political position is one thing, and analyzing political structures and party positions is another."

The German intellectual exemplifies his understanding of teaching behavior based on the theme of “democracy”. It is about presenting the student with its different forms, examining them and confronting them with non-democratic social and political organizations and the implications of all of them in the conditions of individual life. A judicious exposition would be enough for the student to take his position, which can depart, without contradiction, from the master's conception.

In order not to confuse his craft with prophetism or demagoguery, it is up to the teacher – from any area of ​​knowledge, as the passage below explains, and contrary to the elementary and etymological meaning of the term teacher, whose function would be to “profess” – to avoid the imposition of political positioning, which is irremediably linked to personal value judgments: “We can only ask of him [the academic professor] that he have the intellectual integrity to see that it is one thing to present the facts, to determine the mathematical or logical relationships, or the structure inner meaning of cultural values, and it is another thing to answer questions about the value of culture and its individual contents, and the question of how we should act in the cultural community and in political associations” (WEBER, 1971, p. 172-173).

Weber warns, however, that in situations outside the classroom, where power relations are attenuated (thus making criticism possible) and the objectives of the action are different from the pedagogical activity, can the teacher – hence in quality as a political subject – conveying their cultural and political value judgments.

The topicality of the problem addressed by Weber manifests itself in different contexts beyond the specialized pedagogical and academic debate. Notable is, for example, the broad movement called “Escola sem Partido”. Created in 2004 and aimed at national education at all levels - that is, basic and higher education[vi] –, its purpose seems unequivocally noble in relation to the teaching activity: to prevent party-political indoctrination in the classroom. In this sense, the movement even makes use of excerpts from the conference “Science as a vocation” in order to support its purpose[vii].

Two problems, however, stand out. Unlike the Weberian postulate of “axiological neutrality” also in the classroom, the examples used on the website of the Escola sem Partido movement are focused only on the type of proselytism or party-political indoctrination with a critical or progressive connotation.[viii]. In the presentation of the movement, its aim is explicitly manifested: “Under the pretext of transmitting to students a “critical view” of reality, an organized army of militants disguised as teachers abuses the freedom of teaching and takes advantage of the secrecy of the classrooms to impose their own worldview on them”.[ix]

Everything happens, therefore, as if teachers were not in a position to defend different political positions in the classroom - such as those arising from economic liberalism, moral conservatism and authoritarianism -, even disseminating their religious conceptions to the students, the which, it should be added, the movement seeks, despite state secularism, to protect as a right of parents and students.

Associated with this misunderstanding in which the political connotation of the Escola Sem Partido movement is paradoxically manifested, a second problem seems to result from the lack of careful reading of the teaching activity postulated by Weber. For the German thinker, it is clear that the teacher should avoid declaring and imposing his personal political position on his audience. He cannot, however, get rid of the pedagogical obligation that consists of provoking the student in order to promote self-clarification, the capacity for critical reflection and, above all, autonomous and independent. It is in this way that the student acquires conditions to rationally choose his individual action, his political position and his own way of conducting life.

Indeed, it is true that presenting scientific problems in such a way that an uninstructed but receptive mind can understand them and – what is decisive for us – can come to reflect on them independently, is perhaps the most important pedagogical task. difficult of all (WEBER, 1971, p. 159).

Avoiding party-political or “ideological” proselytism, to inscribe here a term proper to the contemporary cultural war[X], therefore, teachers cannot avoid presenting critical knowledge of social reality. Such a task implies revealing, for example, how – to remain within the scope of sociology as a scientific discipline – schools and universities themselves can act as mechanisms for the reproduction of social structures and inequalities at a material and symbolic level (cf. BOURDIEU; PASSERON, 1975; 2014)[xi].

In this sense, for the American sociologist Wright Mills (1969, p. 192-211) – an attentive reader of Max Weber[xii] –, the role of the sociologist in the classroom cannot be realized except in a political way, since he is invariably committed to modern values ​​such as reason and freedom. Such a statement does not mean, at all, to teach in a partisan, doctrinal or “ideological” way, but rather, taking advantage of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of craft, to fulfill the objective postulated in Law nº 9.394/1996, which establishes the guidelines and bases of Brazilian education: teaching based on the pluralism of ideas, in order to form an individual with the capacity for critical and autonomous thinking.

Considering the basic educational deficit of a country whose inequalities are abysmal[xiii], teaching in higher education, in any area of ​​scientific knowledge, cannot escape the objective of forming the individual – or rather, the citizen, under the terms of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 – formally provided for by law. In other words, taking Weber's well-founded refutation of the normative and evaluative aspect of teaching seriously, one cannot fail to pursue in higher education the formation of an individual endowed not only with technical capacities specific to his profession, but also with indispensable qualities for the rational exercise of an increasingly global citizenship, despite the attacks against such a process. In this sense, the unilateral accusation of taking a party-political and “ideological” position tends to hinder and to tarnish the teaching activity in a scientific discipline whose purpose is (not exclusively) to understand (Understand) and/or explain (To explain) – according to the famous dichotomy in classical and contemporary social theory[xiv] – the social reality in its dimension also criticism.

We have seen that the sociologist profession was legally regulated in 1980, at the beginning, therefore, of a slow process of opening the Brazilian military dictatorship towards redemocratization. Banned from the curriculum in 1971, Sociology was again incorporated into High School in 2008, then becoming, like Philosophy, a mandatory subject. The reform of Secondary Education, initially established through a provisional measure and approved as law in 2017[xv], and above all the persistent and current attacks on teaching, in general, and on Sociology and Philosophy, in particular, may indicate the trend of a retrogression whose advance History teaches obligatorily to prevent in the name, once again, of education and exercise of global citizenship.

In “Education after Auschwitz”, Theodor Adorno (1986) outlined psychological and subjective characteristics prone to authoritarianism, as well as social and cultural aspects that can make the repetition of Auschwitz (symbol of the Holocaust) real, such as exacerbated nationalism, for example. mutatis mutandis, it is always necessary to take seriously his idea that education must necessarily lead individuals to enlightenment, de-barbarization and critical self-reflection, in order to avoid, thus, the repetition of bureaucratically organized monstrosities.

*Elton Corbanezi is a professor at the Department of Sociology and Political Science at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT). author of Mental health, depression and capitalism (Unesp).

Originally published in the book Humanities in times of remote work: Education, University and Knowledge (Fênix Foundation Publisher).



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[I] It should be noted that the professional destiny of sociologists – and of social scientists, in general – is quite diffuse, despite their relative concentration in education, both in basic education and in public and private higher education. Regarding the professional destiny of sociologists and social scientists, see the most recent research by Torino (2012) and Braga (2011), as well as studies from the 1990s by Bonelli (1993), by Werneck Vianna and collaborators (1994) and the by Simon Schwartzman (1995).

[ii] For a critique of the so-called “Sociologist's Law”, due to its scope and inefficiency from the point of view of creating a market reserve and “professional territory”, see Torino (2012, p. 52-57).

[iii] In the Brazilian Classification of Occupations (CBO) – a government document whose purpose, since 2002, has not been to regulate professions but to identify their existence –, one finds similar competences for the profession of sociologist, alongside anthropologists, archaeologists and political scientists, all classified under the rubric “Professionals in sociological anthropological research and analysis”. Available in:

[iv] The issue of axiological neutrality is systematically addressed in “The 'objectivity' of knowledge in Social Science and Political Science” (WEBER, 2001a), as well as in “The meaning of 'Axiological Neutrality' in Social and Economic Sciences” ( WEBER, 2001b). On the concept in Weber's work and its plurality of justifications (ontological, methodological, historical, ethical, epistemological and logical), see Weiss (2014) and Fanta (2014), in which one can find specialized bibliography on the subject.

[v] The university issue is problematized by the German thinker in its context in Weber (1998). Mariana T. Ferreira (2015) addresses the topic from the perspective of Weber's Political Sociology, as well as the latent pedagogical issue in his work.

[vi] The movement's performance stands out above all in basic education, as can be seen in the poster that contains the "duties of the teacher", to be posted in primary and secondary education classrooms (Available at: Accessed on: 14 Mar. 2021). However, in the section of the website where the Programa Escola sem Partido is presented, it is read that the movement “[…] is a joint initiative of students and parents concerned with the degree of political-ideological contamination of Brazilian schools, in all levels: from basic to higher education”. See also Art. 9, item VII, of the draft federal law that “Establishes the School Without Party Program” (Available at: Accessed on: 14 Mar. 2021).

[vii] Until 2019, at least, isolated fragments of Weber's lecture were found in the presentation sections of the Escola sem Partido movement, seeking to substantiate the objective of the project. In the current version of the site, the mention is found in the “Questions and Answers” ​​section, as well as in scattered publications on the site, always alluding to the role of the teacher in the classroom. Available in

[viii] On the official website of the movement, in the section significantly entitled “Corpo delicti”, one finds, for example, several cases of “school indoctrination” limited exclusively to slogans, themes, characters and progressive social movements. Available in: Accessed on Sep 09. 2019. (In the current version of the website, the section “Corpo delicti” is available at Similar content from such publications is now available in the blog section: In this regard, see also the research by Severo et al. (2019), which empirically shows how the militancy of the Movimento Escola Sem Partido in social networks occurs only on one side of the political spectrum.

[ix] Available in:

[X] On this regard, see Alexander (2018). Based on Steve Bannon – a far-right North American ideologue, whose influence was also noted in the election of the current Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro –, Alexander (2018) addresses the contemporary “cultural war” and its political logic of destruction of modern institutions and values. Notwithstanding the American sociologist's emphasis attributed to the influence of the ideologue Steve Bannon on the Donald Trump government, his essay – significantly titled “Vociffering against the Enlightenment” – deals with the rise of populism on a planetary scale, which therefore includes the Hungarian cases , Filipino, Turkish and Brazilian, among others.

[xi] In this regard, it is worth noting that the Synthesis of social indicators: an analysis of the living conditions of the Brazilian population: 2018 (IBGE) corroborates, in Brazil today, the central idea of ​​research carried out by French sociologists in the 1960s and 1970s. work; standard of living and income distribution; and education. This, in turn, is subdivided into early childhood education and higher education. In the section dedicated to higher education, based on rigorously collected and analyzed data, it is stated, in line with Bourdieu and Passeron's thesis: “In Brazil, access to higher educational levels, more specifically to higher education, represents a mechanism important for reproducing social inequalities” (IBGE, 2018, p. 93).

[xii] As is known, Wright Mills organized, together with his teacher Hans Gerth, the remarkable edition From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology [1946] (WEBER, 1971), consisting of selected texts by Max Weber and a long introduction prepared by the organizers.

[xiii] In this regard, see, for example, IBGE (2018). In the document, there is a broad mapping of Brazilian structural inequalities, their effects on the national reality and their perpetuation trends, considering occupations, education, income distribution, regions, gender, color or race and age groups. You can also consult Education at a Glance 2018, OECD report (OECD, 2019) that highlights the extreme inequality of Brazilian society compared to member countries and partners of the organization. The Covid-19 pandemic highlights and intensifies the country's structural inequalities.

[xiv] Regarding the dichotomy and the different attempts to synthesize it, see, for example, Giddens; Turner (1999); Alexander (1987); Sell; Martins (2017).

[xv] As is known, the Secondary Education reform (Law No. 13.415/2017) revokes the obligation of Sociology and Philosophy as High School subjects, as previously established by Law No. 11.684/2008, which amended, by in turn, the provisions of Article 36 of Law No. 9.394/1996. Instead of being mandatory for High School, these areas of knowledge – along with Physical Education and Arts – now appear as “studies and practices” to be obligatorily included in the Common National Curricular Base. Imprecise and vague, the terms “studies and practices” do not ensure the mandatory provision and teaching of specific curricular components (cf. Maciel, 2019).

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