Re-working classes in North-South dialogue

Anthony McCall, You and I Horizontal, 2005


Organizers introduction to newly released book


With this work we seek to present a comprehensive reflection on the current dynamics of transformation of contemporary capitalism. The diversity of approaches covers a wide range of themes whose point of convergence revolves around social inequalities in their different categories, including social class, racial issues, gender identities and sexual orientation, etc.

The impacts of the recent cycle of crises, financial, the Covid-19 Pandemic, international politics and the weakening of democratic regimes, challenge us to deepen the sociological debate, the critique of globalization and current trends in the world of work and society on the most diverse continents. The effects of all these transformations – economic, social, cultural and political – in the reorganization of the class structure and types of collective action deserve special emphasis.

If the old controversies about social classes and productive organization inspired the processes of institutionalization of social sciences and sociology in their first phase, we believe that today, after around two hundred years of this cycle of “great transformations”, it is pertinent to convene a set of academics from various backgrounds to present their studies and reflections on current trends of change in the global world of the 21st century.

Considering from the outset the cradle of modern capitalism, Western Europe, it is good to remember that, side by side with the countless social upheavals, wars and conflicts that marked industrial societies for more than two hundred years, in the Global North and South hemispheres, it witnessed There is also significant social development and progress, for example, in matters such as the technological and digital revolution, the repercussions of which affect the entire world. However, as the world is so unequal and asymmetrical, the lines of change are drawn under costumes, meanings and rhythms conditioned by previously established asymmetries.

More recently, over the last half century, the emergence of neoliberal globalization has led to an increasing deregulation of economies with the consequent stagnation (or retreat) of social policies and the constant accentuation of social inequalities, even in European Union countries, where the The welfare state advanced further in the second half of the 20th century.

More recently, the context of the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to increasing the world's acceleration and catalyzing new threats: on the one hand, it alerted us to the excesses of neoliberal globalization, environmental risks, the hegemony of financial capital over the economy production, the erosion of democracies and the growth of far-right populism; on the other hand, this scenario now places us before a crossroads of challenges, with the digital transition and the disruption of the previous work model demanding new responses, where the circular economy, sustainable development and reindustrialization take on a new meaning. It is important to know, given the aforementioned global scenario, what new lines of change are, and also what the meaning of the new international division of labor is and how the new class barriers are structured.

One of the major trends that has sparked intense debate in recent decades deserves special attention in this book. It is linked to growing global asymmetries and the intensification of power imbalances inherited from the past. And this past, which is at the genesis of modern Western capitalism, is historically linked to the colonial issue.

Even though this work is not specifically about this topic, it seems obvious to us, given the historical moment that global capitalism is going through today, the importance of this matter, firstly due to the implications it has with the current problem of social inequalities, necessarily putting into play new dynamics and complexities in their different modalities, from the problem of class to new identity divisions that are shaping new movements and inspiring new academic debates.


In this context, the discussion around inequalities requires intersectional approaches where the variable “class” is combined with others such as “gender” and “race”. For these reasons, debates centered on work relations, their transformations and challenges, suggest a new dialogue with racial and gender inequalities and the underlying social movements, as is the case of the black and feminist movements and their reciprocal contaminations.

Although the economic field and the productive system persist as the central axis of economic growth and capitalist accumulation, the social relations of production have lost centrality – for much of social theory – in defining class divisions and especially conflict in the era of neoliberalism. At the same time, “class” as the main subject of sociopolitical change gave way to the growing strength of so-called “identity politics”. In this sense, the issues of post-colonialism, violence and racial prejudice, feminist movements, as well as LGBTQIA+ struggles, have put new questions on the agenda, whether dialoguing with the class, or standing on the margins of the systemic critique of Marxist inspiration.

On the other hand, themes linked to the world of work and “social criticism” also moved towards a more culturalist and aesthetic dimension (in the sense of “aesthetic criticism” as Boltanski & Chiapello pointed out). In effect, class and the “social relations of production” lost explanatory capacity and political strength, while global neoliberalism highlighted a growing power of capital and a general cooling of the working classes and the international trade union movement. More recently, new identity divisions have inspired new theoretical currents with a growing impact on academic debates and society.

It is true that the racial issue is not a new topic in sociology (Samir Amin, Willian E. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Wallerstein, Loic Wacquant, Achille Mbembe, among many others, have already discussed the problem). In the Brazilian context, the myth of “cordial racism” or “racial democracy” à la Gilberto Freyre was object of questioning from an early age, particularly under the influence of Florestan Fernandes (followed by Otávio Ianni, among others). But even in Portugal this stereotype has been prevalent since the times of Salazarism in the middle of the colonial period – and this despite the proliferation of racist jokes after the end of that war – although more recent post-colonial cases and debates have shown that structural racism it remains, there and here.

In Brazil, the populist-nationalist discourse, in the first half of the 1960th century, and the narrative of the primacy of class that prevailed from the beginning of the 2002s (Guimarães, XNUMX), under the influence of the cultural rapprochement between Brazil and Africa and the growth of the black movement, paving the way, for example in regions such as Bahia, led to a greater expressiveness of “Afro-Brazilian culture”, which helped to confront the myth of miscegenation or Freyrian cordiality.

The idea of ​​a possible dilution of the racial problem in the face of the apparent increase in class antagonisms gained expression following the anti-fascist discourse (from the middle of the last century) where figures such as Bastide (1944), inspired by Jorge Amado, seemed to look at the course of history in Brazil as an evolution of the black identity matrix, founded on African-influenced spiritualism, towards a confluence between “blackness” and the white proletariat. In the eyes of Jorge Amado, followed by Bastide, trade unionism seemed to gain influence among the population, given the increase in class struggle and the expected “union of proletarians”.

However, it became evident that, alongside an alleged Farewell to the Proletariat, according to the conception of André Gorz (1980), the working class, contrary to many diagnoses, has become increasingly fragmented and weakened as a political subject, seeming to surrender to the power of capital under the baton of neoliberal globalization in recent decades.

In fact, the profound transformations that have occurred in recent decades have radically altered the world of work, increasingly marked by infinite divisions and vulnerabilities, faced with aggressive mercantilism, inventing value chains based on the multiplication of capital, securities, stock exchange shares values ​​and financial speculation. Capital generating capital became more attractive and auspicious than productive investment projects, while innovation in the IT and digital fields helped to eliminate millions of jobs, replaced by new digital equipment, automation and platforms managed by algorithms and Big Data

Hence the proliferation of new social inequalities, new subclasses, the creation of abysmal fractures and forms of domination, between included and excluded, rich and poor, men and women, the Global North and South, whites and blacks, etc. In short, the current divisions and inequalities in the world do not replace the old ones, but rather join them, adding new asymmetries and increasing the complexity, instability and acceleration of the late modernity in which we live (Rosa, 2022). In addition to the old cleavages between the center and periphery of the world system, the oppositions between the North and the so-called Global South result from a growing awareness of the complex nature and obscuring of deep forms of inequality and prejudice that dominant ideologies have hidden for centuries.

Colonial domination and post-colonialism imposed a whole set of narratives that helped to “naturalize”, hide and silence the greatest victims of an unfair and inhumane system in many of its aspects. Eurocentric domination found legitimization both in the action of control and in the very imposition of a language that helped to naturalize the subalternity of the colonized (Quijano, 2005; Mignolo, 2020; Robinson, 2023). Thus, ancestral patriarchy combined with slavery regimes to brutally impose oppression and domination that carried, and continues to carry, over the centuries various forms of violence and silencing, of which race and gender divisions are examples, creating at the same time a “veil” of obscuring and denying the black condition (Du Bois, 2021 [1903]).

This cancellation of being, this inferiorization of the black bodies of men and women – in a movement of ideological dissemination that inculcated in their minds the naturalization of the superiority of one race over another – led the victims of colonial whiteness to dream of becoming white, like us. showed Frantz Fanon (2008 [1952]) through the speech of his patients. But this colonization of the black mind did not prevent feelings and resentments accumulated over centuries from growing, which persisted after the official end of colonialism in the Americas and the Global South.


Given the emergence of the most recent debates, it is important to question the old canons and rigid theoretical divisions within Western social sciences, in convergence with proposals by Michael Burawoy (2022), among others. It is necessary to seek inspiration in these new languages, but without abandoning the theoretical legacy of the ancient classics, that is, refocusing the dialogue between authors, putting critical views from the North in conversation with spokespeople from the oppressed sectors of the southern hemisphere, recovering epistemologies of the South the counterpoint to Eurocentric hegemony (Santos, 2017).

As we know, racially based inequalities and violence have historically been incorporated into capitalist logic itself, especially in countries with peripheral capitalism, such as Brazil. The capitalist power that operates on a global scale, as Klaus Dörre (2022) argues, expropriates subalterns practically without resistance. The old struggles of the industrial working class retreated and were replaced by corporate-based unionism in the still stable sectors of the labor market.

At the same time, neoliberalism has been promoting subclasses below the threshold of social respectability, given the multiplication and unfolding of new and more fragile labor links, with subcontracting, illegal labor trafficking, flexible forms of temporary work, nowadays linked to the expansion of the digital field, of “platform workers”, da uberization, etc. Cheap and sometimes slave labor – even if in many cases with advanced educational qualifications, as occurs in Europe, but also increasingly in Latin America – seems, however, to be accepted without response by workers and social groups ghettoized and forgotten by the system.

The new “class-that-lives-from-work”, which Ricardo Antunes (2018) talks about, is alien to any protection mechanisms or even any humanly dignified condition (Huws et al. 2017; Maciel, 2021); but it still seems powerless to act again as a collective actor (as in the times studied by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels), whether it be called the proletariat or “precariat” (Standing, 2013).

Perhaps these precarious and dispersed segments, if they allow themselves to be influenced by other movements and identity groups (racial, ethnic, environmental, gender or sexual orientation), nowadays in many contexts more vibrant than trade unions, could come to instigate future waves of rebellion of a Polanyian or Thompsonian type (Thompson, 1988), but it is not certain that this will happen. And if this happens, they could open the doors, not of socialism, but perhaps of a return to nationalist and populist authoritarianism (Estanque, 2015).

In fact, these social layers are made up of an almost unlimited myriad of precarious and unworthy conditions, such as subcontractual forms, informalities, victims of labor trafficking, domestic work, digital nomadism, etc., without forgetting the small entrepreneur. , the micro-entrepreneur, himself often living on the edge of subsistence and dignity (Barbosa, 2012), the man at the kiosk who works intensely with his family to be able to support his small business.


The organizers of this book are part of a network of international academic relations, where they have integrated cooperation and mobility projects and programs involving universities and research centers in Brazil (UNESP-Franca), Portugal (University of Coimbra) and Germany (Univ . Friedrich-Schiller, Jena). These connections could constitute an added advantage that puts us in a privileged position to promote this editorial initiative, continuing the multilateral protocols in force between the aforementioned institutions.

Therefore, we programmed our book thinking about three essential domains, linked together, and which we consider to be in line with the aforementioned objectives of internationalization of social sciences, in their interdisciplinarity. In thematic terms we consider: firstly, a more generic and reflexive domain over our societies, where the main lines of reflection around the complexity and rhythms of change within the framework of global capitalism, but with the concern of maintaining the North-North dialogue South, its interconnections and potential forms of cooperation (particularly in the post-pandemic context).

Secondly, a focus on labor relations and the processes of deregulation, fragmentation and precariousness in employment systems; and thirdly, a line more directed towards recent processes of class restructuring (either as objective social structures or as socio-political actors) and in close connection with movements and counter-movements (identitarian, populist, feminist, anti-racist, anti- homophobes, etc.), within the framework of the recent cycle of neoliberalism, the pandemic and the socioeconomic implications of the current war in Europe.

*Elísio Estanque is a researcher at the Center for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra and visiting professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). Author, among other books, of Middle class and social struggles: Essay on society and work in Portugal and Brazil (Unicamp Publisher). []

*Agnaldo de Sousa Barbosa is a professor at the Department of Education, Social Sciences and Public Policies at UNESP-Franca.

* Fabricio Maciel He is a professor of sociological theory at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author, among other books, of Brazil-nation as an ideology. The rhetorical and sociopolitical construction of national identity (Ed. Autograph). []


Elísio Estanque, Agnaldo de Sousa Barbosa & Fabrício Maciel (Orgs.). Re-working classes in the north-south dialogue: work and inequalities in post-covid capitalism. São Paulo, Unesp, 2024, 424 pages. []


Antunes, Ricardo (2018), The Privilege of Servitude – The new service proletariat in the digital age. São Paulo: Boitempo.

Barbosa, Agnaldo de Sousa (2012). “'Barefoot' businesspeople: reflections on the sociocultural formation of businesspeople in the industrial hub of Franca-SP”, in Economic Development Magazine, Salvador-BA, n. 26, Dec/2012, pp. 66-73.

Bastide, Roger (1944), “Itinerary of democracy” (I, II and II), articles in Diary of São Paulo, March 1944, apud Guimarães, 2002.

Burawoy, Michael (2022), “Walking on two legs. Black Marxism and the Sociological canon”, in Critical Sociology, vol. 48(4-5), pp. 571-586

Dörre, Kaus. 2022. Capitalist Expropriation Theorem. Sao Paulo: Boitempo.

Du Bois, WEB (2021 [1903]), The Souls of the Black People. São Paulo: Veneta.

Estanque, Elísio (2015), Middle Class and Social Struggles. Campinas: Publisher of Unicamp.

Fanon, Frantz (2008 [1952]), Black Skin, White Masks. Salvador/BA: Edufba.

Gorz, André (1980), Adieux au Prolétariat. Au de-là du Socialisme. Paris: Galile.

Guimarães, António Sérgio (2002), Classes, Races and Democracy. São Paulo; Publisher 34.

Huws, Ursula (2019), Labor in Contemporary Capitalism. What Next?. London: Palgrave/MacMillan.

Maciel, Fabrício. (2021), The new global work society. Beyond center and periphery? 2nd revised and expanded edition. Rio de Janeiro: Autography.

Mignolo, Walter (2020), Local Stories / Global Projects. Coloniality, subaltern knowledge and liminal thinking. Porto Alegre: Editora UFMG.

Quijano, Anibal (2005), “Coloniality of power, Eurocentrism and Latin America”, in The Coloniality of Knowledge: Eurocentrism and social sciences. Latin American Perspectives. Buenus Aires: CLACSO, pp. 117-142.

Robinson, Cedric J. (2023), Black Marxism. The Creation of the Black Radical Tradition. São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, Lda.

Rosa, Hartmut (2022), Alienation and Acceleration. Towards a critical theory of late-modern temporality. Petrópolis: Editora Vozes.

Santos, Boaventura de Sousa (2017), A New Vision of Europe: Learning from the South. London: Routledge.

Standing, Guy (2013), The Precariat. The new dangerous class. São Paulo: Editora Autêntica.

Thompson, Edward Palmer (1988), The Making of the English Working Class. (vols. I, II and III), São Paulo: publisher Paz e Terra.

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