A little more about Zeferino Vaz

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905), quilt (or decorative throw), crazy pattern, ca. 1877. (Met collection)


Analysis of a speech by the former rector of Unicamp

Previous post on The Earth is Round, authored by Caio Navarro de Toledo, brought the article “Zeferino Vaz: A right-wing dean praised by all” . By presenting the trajectory of this dean, Toledo sought to “contribute to the knowledge of the performance of academics and intellectuals of right-wing convictions in times of democracy and dictatorship”. In addition, Toledo suggested other researches related to Vaz, in order to overcome “impressionist and little analytical formulations”.

Therefore, we present here the analysis of a speech by Zeferino Vaz, written in 1971, that is, during the 1964-1985 dictatorship. We found this speech in the Central Library of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in the archives of the Special Advisory on Security and Information (AESI). The function of the AESIs, in federal universities, was to screen employees, especially professors, control their activities, collect and pass on to the National Information Service (SNI) documents of a character considered subversive. They were linked to the rectors' offices and to the Security and Information Division of the Ministry of Education and Culture (DSI-MEC), a body of the SNI.

In these archives, we find two closely related articles: one by Rubens Resstel (1970) entitled “A subversão na escola”, published in the newspaper Estado de São Paulo, on November 19, 1970, and one by Zeferino Vaz (1971) – “Contribução knowledge of the revolutionary war: the process of 'hazing' of 'freshmen' as a reflexological science-based technique for imposing subversive student leadership at Universities” –, sent directly by the author, then dean pro tempore of the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), to the rector of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, on January 20, 1971.

The two articles are linked. Perhaps Resstel's spawned Vaz's, but the opposite is also possible. We analyze here only Vaz's: it concerns the political use of a psychological theory, reflexology. Resstel's, however, brings important information to understand the context of the writing of the two documents.

Vaz's text appears, in the AESI/UFMG Archive, under the entry “Study of the meaning of hazing”. This is a long argument against hazing college freshmen. For this reason, we describe, in our analysis, specifically the statements in which we find argumentative connectives, specifically: why, since, as well as, but, however, also, because, then, even when, because, still.

In terms of discourse analysis, Zeferino Vaz's text is our analysis corpus. Basically, we carried out, at the same time, two procedures: (1) we sought to know the context of enunciation of this speech, that is, we sought the conditions of production of Vaz's speech that, in the archive, accompanies Resstel's speech, which precedes it and, (b) assuming that Vaz's text is a long argument that denounces the political use of reflexology in student hazing, we take the argumentative connectives found in it as the basis for the analysis carried out.

Thus, first, we inquire about how Vaz's text was produced: who was this author, why did he write about the university hazing, who did he address, under what circumstances did he produce his speech, what political and historical determinations governed his writing.

Following the theoretical proposals of Flahault (1978), a discourse analyst, we asked about the relations of place that structured the relations between Vaz and Resstel: their life stories; the class relations and social formation to which Vaz belonged, represented himself and wanted to be recognized; the system of places instituted by the specific situation of speech production (in this case, the place of a university dean addressing another dean according to mutually recognized politeness rules); the articulations between insignias and places attributed by Vaz not only to Resstel, but also to himself and to the other university dean he was addressing; the representations of places in the social structure that cross the discourse; the positions occupied by the interlocutors (Resstel, Vaz, dean(s)); the recognitions, intentions and conventions that permeate the discourse under analysis.

Parallel to the search for this context information that inform about the historical, political, social, imaginary and psychological determinations that operated on the analyzed discourse, we examined in particular the argumentative connectives used by the author. Following Ducrot (1991), theorist of argumentation, we can say that Vaz's speech aims to lead the reader to a certain conclusion. This argumentative function leaves marks on the enunciative structure. Therefore, we decided to go through Vaz's speech, specifically analyzing the argumentative connectives.

In this way, the research of the conditions of production of the speech informed about the historical-political moment of the writing of the text; about the emergence of reflexology and its diffusion in Brazil; about Zeferino Vaz, the author of the speech under analysis; about his relations with Resstel and the points in common between the writings of Vaz and Resstel.

We remind you that the text by Vaz (1971) was found in a security and information file from the dictatorship. These were Cold War times and Brazil was aligned with the United States and, therefore, against the Soviet Union. At the time, the Brazilian student movement openly opposed the dictatorship. In government was General Emílio Garrastazu Médici (1969-1974) and the country was experiencing the so-called “Brazilian miracle”, with high rates of economic growth. Those were the most repressive years of the dictatorial period, with student leaders arrested since the end of 1968, with Institutional Act nº 5 (AI-5) in full force, with the National Congress closed, suspension of political and civil rights, suspension of parliamentary mandates, imprisonment and political persecution of opponents of the regime, censorship of the media.

In February 1969, Decree Law No. 477 had been enacted, which aimed to dismantle the student movement and authorized the expulsion of students considered to be against the regime from higher education schools. In 1970 and 1971, there were disappearances, torture and death of political prisoners, which took place secretly, far from the eyes of the population and completely outside the censored media.

In this climate, Zeferino Vaz's speech functioned by appropriating reflexology, a psychological theory that emerged in Russia in the mid-nineteenth century as a critique and response to mentalist and metaphysical doctrines. Ivan Pavlov made the conditioned reflex the basic concept of reflexology and described the process by which it was established (today called classical or Pavlovian conditioning). The conditioned reflex was recognized as the experimental unit of behavior analysis, capable of explaining behavioral variations and guaranteeing scientific objectivity for the study of the human psyche.

Reflexology has been taught in Brazil since the first half of the XNUMXth century. The first behavior analysis laboratories were set up in Physiology departments (such as the one at USP), where Pavlovian work was read and discussed.

Still dealing with the conditions of speech production, we seek to show who Zeferino Vaz was and the importance of his relationship with Resstel. Born in 1908, Vaz graduated in 1931 from the Faculty of Medicine of São Paulo. His professional career was marked by teaching, politics and public administration. He served as a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of São Paulo, where he taught Biology, Zoology and Parasitology and of which he was director between 1936 and 1947. Indicated and protected by politicians, he participated in the creation of the Faculty of Medicine at USP, in Ribeirão Preto, directing it between 1951 and 1964. Due to his alignment with the 1964 coup and his academic and political trajectory, in April 1964, Vaz was appointed rector-intervenor of the University of Brasília (UnB). At the State Council of Education in São Paulo, he denounced Marxist infiltration in São Paulo colleges. He was appointed by Governor Adhemar de Barros (1901-1969) to lead the organizing committee of the university in Campinas (UNICAMP) where he held the position of rector until his compulsory retirement, due to age, in 1978. During this period, he was a member of the Council of Rectors of Brazilian Universities (CRUB), which also included the rector of UFMG, to whom he sent the text on the 'hazing' process of 'freshmen'. It is possible that the same text was also sent to other CRUB members.

Defenders of Vaz describe him as responsible for making UNICAMP a cutting-edge technological institution. Others point out their ambiguities in the face of the dictatorship.

It is likely that Zeferino Vaz and Rubens Resstel maintained close and interlocution relations for years. In 1964, they worked together in preparations for the coup against Goulart. Comparing the two texts found in the AESI/UFMG archive, we found common points between the writings. For example: (a) the conjecture that the international communist movement had lost interest in the working class and decided to act, with new methods, in educational environments, particularly in secondary education, with the aim of indoctrinating and recruiting agents who could serve it for long time; (b) the assumption that, as a line of action, the communists infiltrated the Faculties of Philosophy, since they were the ones that trained secondary school teachers; (c) the assertion that freshman hazing is used by infiltrated agents in the student environment to obtain the obedience of the freshman mass thanks to the conditioning of reflexes.

The careful reading and re-readings of Vaz's text, associated with the analysis of the argumentative connectives used by the author, help to point out the purpose of his writing about freshman hazing. The first argument found is more “psychoanalytical” than “reflexological” in character: hazing is not harmless entertainment, but a means of satisfying sadomasochistic impulses that manifest themselves through the need to inflict suffering or derive satisfaction from it. We arrive at this argument from the intradiscursive context in which the following fragment of discourse is inserted, which contains the connective because: “This explains why some sadistic seniors go too far and why some masochistic freshmen gladly submit to sadistic practices”.

Using the same procedure, that is, paying special attention to the discursive context in which a segment containing argumentative connectives appears, we obtained a second argument: “since the subversive left became convinced that university students were more open than workers to the revolutionary message , hazing became scientifically oriented through reflexology techniques, precisely to impose, through the creation of conditioned reflexes, the obedience of students to their subversive leaders”.

The third argument assumes that it is perfectly possible for veterans to condition freshmen: “Through numerous and well-conducted experiments, it has been exhaustively demonstrated that it is possible to impose phobias, fears, obedience, aggressiveness, as well as order and discipline on man”.

The fourth argument criticizes the psychological theory supposedly employed by student leaders: according to Vaz, although reflexology has constituted a new psychology, based on conditioned reflexes, it is a narrow, mechanistic and negative conception of the human soul: “But then I consider it it [the conditioned reflex] as the only mechanism for the formation of the psychic goes a long way”.

The fifth argument suggests that hazing is not just what it appears to be. It culminates with the final march, a kind of troop parade in which the students, obeying the student leaders en masse, carry posters that are offensive to morals, criticizing civil and university authorities and inciting disorder. Although the police authorities see the march only as a “student event”, the same does not occur with the civilian population, the real target of the subversive leaders: “[The civilians] fear the students, and this is also one of the objectives of the march: to instill in the population the fear of the student movements”.

The sixth argument seeks to prove that, since high school, subversive university leaders are carefully and scientifically equipped to implant in freshmen the conditioned reflex of obedience. They are prepared by secondary school teachers indoctrinated in the Faculties of Philosophy. These professors enlist, for Marxism, aggressive, revolted, idealistic and intelligent young people who “despite being intelligent, almost always repeat the second year of the course several times, because, by this means, they are always in close contact with the freshmen, reflexologically imposing a solid authority on them”.

In the seventh argument, Vaz demonstrates, using several argumentative connectives, that freshmen are easily “manageable” and influenced by the “subversive student leadership” that easily implants in them the conditioned reflex of obedience: “In student slang, the freshman is always dumb, even when smart. He looks dumb because he's shy [...]. He then proceeds to behave like a donkey [...]”.

Eighth and ninth arguments appear in the final conclusion, when Vaz explains the presence of the term “process” in the title of his article, justifying the need to prevent the continuation of hazing in universities and argues for the end of the presence of leftist leaders in universities: “ It is verified, therefore, that the “hazing” [has] defined purposes, within the global scheme of subversive action”. […]. It should also be noted that the preventive and coercive action of Institutional Act n.o 5 […] will interrupt the affirmation process of new leaders of the activist left still active in the Universities.

In conclusion, the production conditions of Zeferino Vaz's speech on student hazing and the argumentative statements used by him and presented throughout the analysis allow for a synthesis of the document in its entirety: Vaz defends the end of university hazing as a strategy to eliminate student subversion and communist infiltration. He understands the formation of subversive young people from the university student movement as the final phase of a long and broad process, which begins in secondary schools. In them, the presence of professors trained in Philosophy Faculties and influenced by a hypothetical international movement of an imaginary monolithic left, creates a favorable environment for the preparation of subversive young people in higher education.

In this scenario, Vaz (1971) resorts to psychology in order to explain the political action of students, arguing that this discipline and, especially, reflexology play a scientific role in explaining obedience and the formation of leaders: “The conditioned reflex of individual obedience and scientifically implanted mass response to subversive leaders is what explains the ease and speed with which thousands of students are mobilized for protest marches” (p.278/5).

The same imaginary had already been traversed by Resstel (1970, p.83/5) in his conference released by the Estado de São Paulo: “In their action with students, communist agents use blackmail, psychological coercion, toxic substances and, commonly, sexual attraction, propagating free love”. Vaz and Resstel affirm the ideological nature of education, a theme that is once again present in Brazilian current affairs, 50 years later.

Vaz maintains a dual relationship with reflexology. The cold war context of the time he writes and the search for an enemy to be pursued generate an allegedly logical association between Soviet psychological theory and its use for communist indoctrination. In your Study on the meaning of hazing, name of the AESI file folder where the document is found, as seen, Vaz (1971) considers reflexology to be a powerful psychological theory, capable of creating conditioned reflexes in a mass of students, making them obedient blind people for the rest of their lives. Your lives. On the other hand, he also considers that reflexology produces a mechanistic and reductive knowledge of man, who is unaware of the subtleties of sadomasochism and other human characteristics. From this dichotomy, arises the theoretical opposition placed by Vaz between reflexology and psychoanalysis, the foundation of the text and common opposition in the history of psychology of that period in which the text under analysis was written. This double relationship perhaps reflects love and hate, admiration and fear in relation to the communist bloc, model of order and also, for the dean pro tempore, an execrable policy.

Finally, based on the records proposed by Flahault (1978) – unconscious, ideological, the situation of the word and the circulation of insignia in the discursive fabric – and the articulation of the analyzed document with the context of its production, we conclude that the coincidences between the texts by Resstel and Vaz expose the proximity between these authors and the alliance between them. They have common goals, belong to an ideological and imaginary formation that encourages military and civil powers to fight together in the same cold war (not so cold, however, if we examine the cases of victims of this collusion, as pointed out by Toledo (2015)). . Vaz occupies a position of supposed knowledge about scientific strategies on revolutionary action; Resstel guarantees protection against alleged threats. They establish a complementary relationship: knowledge and power, information and protection.

We can conclude that the study on hazing was created from the perspective of the right and is an expressive document of the dictatorial period. Aimed at a dean, it is at the same time a civil-military command to eliminate university hazing and an imagined assumption that other university authorities would share the same vision, validate the arguments defended and eliminate hazing. The analysis performed here does not validate these arguments. Differently, it dismantles the foundations of the scientific authority of both Zeferino Vaz and his mirror, Rubens Resstel. However, this analysis also certainly suffers from the determinations of the context in which it was carried out. It was made more than three years ago and can be read, in more detail, in Machado and Batista (2018).

*Marília Novais da Mata Machado is a retired professor at the Department of Psychology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

*Rodolfo Luis Leite Batista holds a PhD in Education from the Federal University of Minas Gerais, university professor and assistant editor of the electronic magazine Memorandum: memory and history in psychology.


DUCROT, O. taste and tell: logical laws and argumentative laws. So Paulo: Global, 1991.

FLAHAULT, F. La parole intermediaire. Paris: Seuil, 1978.

MACHADO, MNM; BATISTA, RLL Freshman hazing reflexology: historical political arguments against subversive conditioning. In MACHADO, MNM and others (Org.). Discourse analysis practices (pp. 185-203). Belo Horizonte: Ed. Artisan, 2018.

RESSTEL, R. Subversion at school: Article published in the State of São Paulo, on November 19, 1970 (AESI/UFMG, Caixa 15/1970, Maço 14, Folhas 1-9/87-79). In: Brazil (1964-1982). Special Adviser on Security and Information AESI/ASI/UNI: UFMG documents. Communist infiltration in educational circles. Box 15/1970, Bundle 14, Pages 79-92, 1970.

TOLEDO, CN Zeferino Vaz: a right-wing dean who protected the left? Germinal – Marxism and Education in Debate, v. 7, no. 2, p. 116-132, 2015.

VAZ, Z. Contribution to the knowledge of the revolutionary war: the “hazing” process of “freshmen” as a reflexological science-based technique for the imposition of subversive student leadership in universities (AESI/UFMG, Caixa 16/1971, Maço -, Folhas 1 -8/282-275). In: Brazil (1964-1982). Special Adviser on Security and Information AESI/ASI/UNI: UFMG documents. Communist infiltration in educational circles. Box 16/1971, Pack -, Pages 275-283, 1971.


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