Sociology of Brazil

Image: Admire Kamudzengerere


Commentary on the recently released book by Alysson Leandro Mascaro

Em Sociology of Brazil, Alysson Leandro Mascaro presents us with a critical and renewing analysis of the lines of sociological thought in the country, emphasizing the importance and applicability of Marxism in understanding its social, legal and economic dynamics.

This commentary aims to explore the main contributions of the work, highlighting the way in which Alysson Leandro Mascaro challenges traditional interpretations and proposing a reassessment of the methodologies used in the study of Brazilian sociology.

Alysson Leandro Mascaro begins her discussion by outlining three main paths of social thought that have guided the interpretation of social and legal issues in Brazil: juspositivist, non-jurispositivist and Marxism. Each path is explored not only in terms of its contributions, but also its limitations, offering a critical overview of how Brazilian sociology has shaped, and sometimes limited, the understanding of social reality.

The first path, the juspositivist, is criticized for its legal and formalistic approach. Alysson Leandro Mascaro argues that this perspective fails to capture the social and economic nuances that influence legislation and its application, often leading to interpretations that perpetuate inequalities. The criticism is not limited to pointing out flaws, but also highlights the danger of a decontextualized view of law, which is disconnected from the population's living conditions.

In contrast, the second path, the non-jurispositivist, attempts to include social and cultural aspects in the analysis of law, however, as Mascaro points out, it often fails to integrate a robust economic critique, essential to understanding the power structures that permeate society. This approach, although more comprehensive than the juspositivist one, is still seen as insufficient for a deep analysis of social complexities.

Marxism is presented as a critical and enriching alternative. Alysson Leandro Mascaro argues that this approach offers the possible tools for a more complete and integrated analysis, covering the interaction between economy, society and law. The author highlights works by Brazilian Marxist theorists such as Caio Prado Jr., Ruy Mauro Marini and Florestan Fernandes, who made important contributions to the Brazilian reality, demonstrating how class struggles and economic structures shape the social and legal panorama.

By contrasting the limitations of juspositivist and non-jurispositivist paths, Alysson Leandro Mascaro emphasizes how these approaches often fail to fully address underlying economic forces and power structures. Marxism, on the other hand, is presented as a robust approach that integrates economic, social and legal dimensions, allowing a more comprehensive and critical understanding of the Brazilian reality.

The structuring of Sociology of Brazil it is meticulous and reflects the author's effort to encompass the complexity of sociological interpretations about Brazil, moving from a historical review to contemporary analyses.

Alysson Leandro Mascaro organizes the book into large thematic blocks that allow the reader to understand not only the different currents of thought, but also how these currents interpret the social, economic and political formation of Brazil over time, thus offering the reader, a pedagogical contribution of his thought.

Three paths of Brazilian social thought

This chapter establishes a theoretical basis for the book, dividing Brazilian social thought into three major paths: the historicity of social thought, contemporary social thought and the sociology of Brazil.

This division suggests a critical analysis of intellectual evolution in the country, highlighting how different historical periods and social contexts influenced sociological theories. Mascaro here discusses the limitations and contributions of each current, emphasizing how Marxism offers an essential critical lens for understanding underlying dynamics that other models may ignore.

Pioneering interpretations of Brazil

In this segment, it reviews the first sociological interpretations of Brazil, which include both the work of prominent theorists in direct political occupation and that of some intellectuals who began to think about Brazil from a more academic and systematic perspective. By detailing “The pioneering liberalisms” and “The pioneering non-liberalisms”, Alysson Leandro Mascaro points to a critical analysis of the formation of liberal thought in Brazil and its alternatives, highlighting how these theories shaped or failed to shape the understanding of social and political structures Brazilians.

Liberal interpretations of Brazil

Focusing on figures such as Sérgio Buarque de Holanda and Raymundo Faoro, this chapter examines how liberalism influenced the interpretation of Brazilian society. Criticism revolves around these approaches, which although innovative, possibly did not fully capture the complexities of power and class relations, especially in a country marked by profound social and racial inequalities.

Interpretations of non-liberal Brazil

Analyzing authors such as Gilberto Freyre, Guerreiro Ramos and Darcy Ribeiro, Alysson Leandro Mascaro discusses how these interpretations challenged liberal views, introducing new dimensions in the understanding of Brazilian society, such as racial and cultural. The critique focuses on how, despite their advances, these theories also have limitations, particularly in terms of deep class analysis and how economic structures shape social relations.

Critical interpretations of Brazil

In this topic, Alysson Mascaro delves into the contributions of fundamental Marxist thinkers, such as Caio Prado Jr., Ruy Mauro Marini and Florestan Fernandes, to reveal an incisive critique of traditional sociological interpretations of Brazil. With a special focus on Ruy Mauro Marini, often neglected by both conventional sociology and certain aspects of Marxism, Alysson Leandro Mascaro revived the recognition of his theories, crucially important for understanding the dynamics of economic dependence that characterize Brazilian history.

At the same time, Alysson Leandro Mascaro offers a refreshing reinterpretation of Florestan Fernandes' work, especially his later phase, which was notable for a radical and deeply Marxist turn. He highlights how Florestan Fernandes, at this stage, intensified his analysis of class structures and mechanisms of oppression, positioning him as a fierce critic of both the liberal policies and illiberal practices that shaped Brazil.

Alysson Leandro Mascaro employed these analyzes to illustrate how Marxism, more than just a tool for economic interpretation, constitutes a solid theoretical framework capable of articulating economic, social and political dimensions. This methodology not only questions liberal and non-liberal narratives, but also advances a critical way of understanding that aims to overcome the restrictions of traditional perspectives, redirecting the sociological debate towards a deeper critique committed to social transformation. In this process, Mascaro not only revisits the contributions of renowned Marxist figures, but also reformulates and expands the Marxist canon, guiding new paths for interpretation and action.

Brazilian society – formation

In this chapter, Alysson Mascaro meticulously examines the roots of Brazilian society, starting with slavery, which constitutes a fundamental pillar in the country's socioeconomic formation. Discussing the “colonial slave mode of production”, the author reveals how economic and social practices during the colonial period fulfilled patterns of inequality that persist to the present day.

Alysson Leandro Mascaro explores the dynamics between enslaved and free, elucidating how the interaction of these groups shaped the social contours that prevail. From a critical perspective, he highlights the long-term consequences of this socioeconomic configuration, particularly through the analysis of “wage-earning sociability” that emerged after the abolition of slavery. The author argues that, although slavery was formally abolished, the transition to a free labor system failed to dismantle the structures of hereditary inequalities, perpetuating many of the social and economic imbalances established during the colonial period.

Brazilian society – current affairs

This segment deepens the discussion begun in the “Formation” chapter, examining how historical structures and practices continue to influence the present. Mascaro focuses on the “Development of Brazilian capitalist dynamics”, highlighting how capitalism in Brazil is uniquely shaped by colonial and slaveholding legacies. He exposes how these origins shaped economic specificities that perpetuate inequalities.

The section on the “Consolidation of Brazilian social reproduction” offers a critical analysis of how social classes perpetuate themselves in contemporary contexts, maintaining and renewing patterns of inequality over generations. Finally, the “Sense of contemporary Brazilian social reproduction” addresses the current challenges faced by society, highlighting persistent social inequality and emerging forms of exclusion.

Alysson Leandro Mascaro, thus, links history to modernity, illustrating how ancient dynamics adapt and manifest themselves in new contexts, reinforcing the need for a sociological analysis that is both reflective and propositional in the search for social and economic justice.

The contribution of Brazilian Marxist theorists, as highlighted by Alysson Leandro Mascaro, exemplifies how Marxism can be applied to analyze and understand not only economic issues, but also how they intersect with racial and gender dynamics. Theorists such as Clovis Moura, Ciro Flamarion Cardoso, Jacob Gorender, Lélia Gonzales and Décio Saes have enriched Brazilian Marxist thought, bringing to debate the specificities of Brazil's social and historical context.

These approaches highlight the need to consider how oppression and exploitation are shaped not only by economic factors but also by racial and gender issues, offering a more complete analysis of power structures.

For example, Lélia Gonzales and Clovis Moura have been instrumental in demonstrating how racism and sexism intertwine with class struggles, expanding the understanding of how exploitation and oppression are experienced differently by different groups in Brazilian society. This expanded approach is crucial as it allows for a richer, more nuanced analysis that not only addresses economic inequalities but also allows for other forms of social injustice.

Alysson Leandro Mascaro, by integrating these contributions into her study, reaffirms Marxism as an indispensable analytical tool for contemporary sociology in Brazil. The work challenges academics and social thinkers to rethink their methodological and theoretical approaches, evolving a more holistic and engaged understanding of the social, economic and legal dynamics that shape the country. The author argues that, without a critical understanding that includes all these dimensions, sociological analysis runs the risk of being superficial and inconvenient for facing contemporary social challenges.

When going through the chapters, it is clear that Alysson Leandro Mascaro makes a coherent articulation between theory and practice, between history and contemporary times, highlighting how interpretations of Brazil have evolved and how they are applied to understand and challenge the current Brazilian reality .

The use of Marxism as a critical tool is central to this approach, allowing a deeper analysis of the roots of inequalities and offering ways to think about concrete solutions to persistent social problems. This work, therefore, not only contributes to the field of sociology, but also to broader political and social engagement in Brazil.

Sociology of Brazil It is, therefore, a crucial work for anyone seeking to understand the sociological roots of the issues that Brazil faces today. By revaluing Marxism, the author not only rescues a theoretical tradition that is often marginalized, but also proposes a form of analysis that considers all layers of social life, offering a more holistic and transformative vision.

This work is an invitation to critical reflection and a methodological review in Brazilian sociology, becoming essential for students, academics and all those interested in a deeper understanding of the social dynamics of Brazil.

*Erik Chiconelli Gomes and p3rd PhD student at the Faculty of Law at USP.


Alysson Leandro Mascaro. Sociology of Brazil. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2024, 156 pages. []

the earth is round there is thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles