In 2016, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff was a brutal shock for Brazilian democracy. An aftershock was the elimination of her predecessor, Lula, from the following presidential race in 2018 while the polls indicated that he was clearly the frontrunner: the Workers’ Party was thus out of the race. The consequence was the victory, not of the right, but of the far right. Indeed, Brazilian democracy has been under threat since Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration on January 1st, 2019. It was well known that the new president was nostalgic for the military dictatorship Brazil had undergone for twenty years; today, he even wants to celebrate the 1964 coup. The execution of Marielle Franco, an activist fighting against police brutality in the favelas, in retrospect looks like a harbinger of the state violence that has increased since. Even before the election, Bolsonaro was (in)famous for his racist, sexist, and homophobic comments, and the imaginary “gay kit” even increased his popularity. In addition, putting Paulo Guedes in charge of the economy confirmed that the president had rallied the neoliberal ideology of the Chicago Boys who defined General Pinochet’s rule. But it is not always easy to relate these different aspects.
The recent measures against sociology and philosophy in public universities that have been announced by the minister of education, and supported by the president, may seem surprising in a country whose motto, Order and Progress, adorning the national flag, is borrowed from the philosopher, and founder of sociology, Auguste Comte. However, these measures clarify the connection between cultural and ideological attacks from the new regime. This international petition soon to be available in several languages has been signed already by over 1,000 academics, from more than 40 countries and 30 disciplines, by professional associations or their presidents (the president of LASA, Latin American Studies Association, Lynn Stephens, and the vice-president, Mara Viveros Vigoya, the president of the Brazilian Anthropological Association, ABA, Maria Filomena Gregori ; l’Association française de sociologie, l’Association des sociologues de l’enseignement supérieur, Die Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie, The European Sociological Association, The Australian Sociological Association, AtGender, the network The Gender International, the Italian gender network GIFTS, etc.). This text emphasizes the democratic, as well as economic issues in this anti-intellectual populism.
Sociology and philosophy under threat in Brazil
Education is an economic resource and a democratic value
On April 26, 2019, the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, confirmed on Twitter what his Minister of Education, Abraham Weintraub, had announced a day earlier: his government plans on cutting federal funding for academic programs in sociology and philosophy. In those fields, future students would have to pay for their own education. While the Minister modeled his action after Japan’s in 2015, the President insisted that higher education should focus on the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic, and that instead of the humanities, the Federal State should invest in areas that bring “immediate returns” to the taxpayer, such as veterinary, engineering, and medical schools.
The international signatories of this public statement warn against the serious consequences of such measures that have actually led the government of Japan to back down after a national and international uproar. First, education in general, and higher education in particular, cannot bring immediate returns; it is a national investment in the future of new generations. Second, modern economies do not only require specialized technicians; our societies need citizens with a broad, general, intellectual training. Third, in our democratic societies, politicians must not decide what constitutes good or bad science. The evaluation of knowledge and its usefulness should not be conducted in the name of conformity to ruling ideologies.
The social sciences and the humanities are no luxury; critical thinking about the world and an in-depth understanding of our societies should not be reserved to the wealthy. As academics in various fields, we are thoroughly convinced that our societies, including Brazil, need more education, not less. Collective intelligence is an economic resource as well as a democratic value.
Étienne Balibar (philosopher, Paris-Nanterre), Seyla Benhabib (philosopher, Yale U.), Michel Bozon (sociologist, INED), Wendy Brown (political scientist, UC Berkeley), Judith Butler (philosopher, UC Berkeley), Sonia Correa (anthropologist, Sexuality Policy Watch), Muriel Darmon (President of Association française de sociologie), Didier Fassin (anthropologist, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), Éric Fassin (sociologist, Paris 8), Zeynep Gambetti (political scientist, U. Bogazici, Istanbul), Agnieszka Graff (literary studies, U. of Warsaw), Maria Filomena Gregori (anthropologist, UNICAMP, São Paulo, President of the Brazilian Anthropological Association, ABA), Sabine Hark (sociologist, TU Berlin), Roman Kuhar (sociologist, dean of the faculty of Arts, Ljubljana U., Slovenia), Bernard Lahire (sociologist, ENS Lyon), Catherine Malabou (philosopher, Kingston U., London), Achille Mbembe, political scientist, U. of Witwatersrand), Richard Miskolci (sociologist, UNIFESP, São Paulo), Pippa Norris (political scientist, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.), David Paternotte (political scientist, Université Libre de Bruxelles), José Ignacio Pichardo (Anthropologist, Universidad Complutense, Madrid), Mario Pecheny (political scientist, U. of Buenos Aires, CONICET), Larissa Pelucio (anthropologist, UNESP, São Paulo), José Ignacio Pichardo (anthropologist, U. Complutense, Madrid), Donatella della Porta (political scientist, Scuola Normale Superiore, Firenze), Massimo Prearo (political scientist, U. of Verona), Joan W. Scott (historian, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), Gita Sen (economist, Bangalore), Lynn Stephen (anthropologist, U. of Oregon, President of LASA – Latin American Studies Association), Sylvia Tamale (legal scholar, Makerere, Ouganda), Anna Uziel (psychologist, UERJ), Mara Viveros Vigoya (anthropologist, U. of Colombia in Bogota, vice-President of LASA), etc.