Interviewee: Prof. Dr. Conrado Pires de Castro
Interviewer: Anna Paula Bennech, M.A.
Translated, edited, and reviewed by Anna Paula Bennech and Giovanna Imbernon
Conrado Pires de Castro holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics, a Master’s in History and Literary Theory, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from Unicamp. He wrote studies on the relationship between modernism and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda’s essayism, and the trajectory of sociologist Luiz Pereira at USP. He recently published the entry on “José de Souza Martins” for the book Retratos: sociólogos e sociólogas brasileiras (2021), organized by the Memory Project of the Brazilian Sociological Society (SBS). He is a professor of Sociology at the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA).
Rethinking the classic interpretation essays about Brazil is a hallmark of your work as a professor and researcher. Why is it important to “reread” these texts? How does “rethinking” contribute to understanding current contexts and, more than that, thinking about the future? Also, how to build bridges between the classics and new schools of thought, such as black feminism?
These questions open several approach possibilities. First, we must recognize that Brazil has a rich tradition of writing interpretation essays about its historical experience, or “formação,” as we usually say in Portuguese. Searching for reasons that may explain the existence of this rich tradition exposes an interpretation challenge, which has much to do with Brazilian society and its, present and past, dilemmas. After all, these works are constitutive parts of what we are, of what we have become, if not of what we can be, as a society and culture. However, it does not mean that we will find the answers to all our current problems and afflictions in these works. Instead, we will undoubtedly come across many questions that remain untouched, as well as suggestions of reflections that demand from our political and sociological imagination answers that are still little explored. The unavoidable task here is to understand the different forms that sought to scrutinize, trace, and systematize the human experience of a social organization formed by heterogeneous groups, composed of different ethnicities, classes, regions, and cultural traditions in such a dense way that they form an imagined community for those who live here by choice or force majeure.
This urgent task is faced every time the country is in a critical moment. In 1992, distressed by a neoliberal offensive, Celso Furtado published a small book called Brasil: a construção interrompida (Brazil: an interrupted construction). Although the melancholic title indicated that the doors to the national project’s conclusion were momentarily closed, the author left the windows ajar to search for a new development model, on the level of the new demands placed on the future reconstruction of a more just and democratic society. And here, without a doubt, we have some fundamental stones to build bridges between the classics of interpretation of Brazil and Black feminism. For example, I think of the demystifying readings of Lélia Gonzalez in her seminal “Racismo e sexismo na cultura brasileira” (Racism and sexism in Brazilian culture), identifying and naming the glaring gaps and silences in the historical experiences of Brazil’s formation. If Brazilian social thought constitutes a reflective effort to interpret and decipher Brazil as a problem, there is a recurrent need to scrutinize the multifaceted, reconfigured, and renewed nature of this problem. Evidently, not with the simple purpose of inventorying the traditions and schools of thought in an erudition exercise that may have some value in a historical dimension. But rather with the intent, always renewed, of understanding what Euclides da Cunha called the “growing demands of civilization” and the “intensive material competition of migratory currents” of new ideas and social forces emerging from historical processes, resizing old questions, posing new problems. And, mainly, to give voice and turn to those protagonists generally silenced or invisibilized throughout our history.
The future of science and scientists in Brazil is in check, among other reasons, due to severe and increasing funding cuts. Moreover, considering the current economic crisis in Brazil, the relevance of humanities and social sciences has been particularly questioned. Is it possible to justify the “validity” of Humanities and Social Sciences through the lenses of “profitability”? How has it impacted academic work for these branches, and what are the prospects for the future?
I think that not only the future of science and scientists but also the Brazilian society itself is threatened. They are all trapped by a rentier logic that goes back to the crisis of national developmentalism (1930-1980). Additionally, the unfolding of the foreign debt crisis in the 1980s, gaining strong impetus with the late adhesion of the Brazilian “power elites” to the neo-liberal ideology after the election of the Collor (1990-92). Since then, an alliance between local rentierism and international finance has exercised a difficult hegemony – that is, one that requires a lot of effort, concessions, and inventiveness to be imposed – but not less implacable in defense of its interests and privileges. A rentier logic that fits everything within simplistic parameters of economic profitability, generally tied to the narrow temporalities of the short term, tends to price everything in market terms, preferring the convenience of buying what is ready and finished to the responsibilities of producing on one’s own. For this reason – even without entering the necessary distinctions between pure and applied science, which could take us too far into this discussion – I do not believe that the profitability parameter is an appropriate view to evaluate the relevance of science in general or social sciences in particular. Besides being radically submissive to market parameters, it seems to be governed by a consumption logic, not production and investment, which entails a high cost even in economic terms, by deepening structural traits of technological dependence and long-term financial vulnerabilities.
In this scenario, it is evident that the social sciences are not well regarded and suffer all sorts of detractions, as they play the uncomfortable role of making power relations and social forces in dispute in society explicit. For example, by pointing out the illusory and mystifying character of social changes produced “spontaneously” by the markets. However, whenever the tendencies of social processes lose their sharpness in their development course, revealing themselves to be incomprehensible in certain critical conjunctures like the ones we are going through now, the social sciences can offer powerful instruments of observation and analysis, building indispensable references to glimpse the possibilities open to the historical present. Therefore, even facing adverse situations and all the hostility currently directed at the social sciences, I understand that the very complexity of the challenges posed by the present reality suggests a very promising future for this field’s deepening and diversification of research inside and outside academia.
Although enhanced by current democratic backlashes, the distancing of academia from civil society, as well as the need to “justify” the relevance of the humanities and social sciences, is not last week’s news. In this scenario, how do you evaluate the inclusion of sociology in Brazilian high schools’ curriculum and its path so far? What role has it played, and what does it play now?
Since the Brazilian educational law (LDB 9,394/1996), the inclusion of Sociology (and Philosophy) in high school’s curriculum was already on the horizon of the contents, methodologies, and forms of assessment that should be contemplated at this education level. Thus, intense debates that had been going on at least since the great Educational Reforms motivated by the agitation of the Pioneers of the New School of the 1920s, which were resumed soon after the Revolution of 1930, were reactivated. In general, the intermittent historical trajectory of the study of Sociology at levels before university education can be clipped into three major periods. All of them present chronological marks more or less coincident with the educational reforms of Francisco Campos (1931), Gustavo Capanema (1942), and the initiatives of educational experiments triggered by the democratic transition process (1982), culminating finally with the obligatory teaching of Philosophy and Sociology “as compulsory subjects in all grades of high school,” through Law 11.684/2008. This tumultuous journey was marked by clashes between the executive and legislative branches and the educational bureaucracy responsible for administering the school curriculum, which lasted from 1998 to 2017. At the very moment when the purposes of integrating the subjects of Philosophy and Sociology seemed settled, this process was run over by an educational reform (Law 13.415/2017) that reinstated tensions and contradictions in the distribution of the subject’s content related to high school education. The revisions and exclusions proposed in this reform arouse many uncertainties, to the extent that its terms while removing the compulsory nature of sociology as a specific subject in high school, provide for the maintenance of its contents in the training itineraries established in the Common National Curriculum Base.
An important novelty in this scenario was the mobilization of high school students against the closing of public schools in São Paulo in late 2015. This movement started a series of protests that unfolded into the occupation of these schools, establishing an innovative experience of youth organization and sociability in the school space during a process of struggle. In the following year, these high school mobilizations were expanded to the whole country by organizing other occupations that resulted in new social relations. As a result, it deepened the ties between students and the commitment to defend schools and public patrimony. These occupations produced a set of student collectives where very interesting and promising spaces for popular education are being developed. The social sciences should be aware of these phenomena and their possible impacts on formal and informal educational processes, whether institutionalized or not.
Internationalization and interinstitutional collaboration are trending keywords for developing higher education and science. For this, languages are a fundamental tool that can work both as a catalyst and a barrier. How do you see the internationalization process of universities and academic work in Brazil? Especially for human and social sciences, what are the bottlenecks and alternatives for Brazilian science to be more internationally spread and consumed?
There is no doubt that internationalization and inter-institutional collaboration are indispensable to breaking the provincialism of some Brazilian intellectuals. However, they will not fulfill this function if they are understood and conducted in a provincial way, dazzled by superficial cosmopolitanism. It is not only necessary to remember that hierarchies exist but also pay attention to how these hierarchies operate to sustain, protect and defend more or less established positions and privileges in the social dimension. Hence, if internationalization and inter-institutional collaboration are imperatives of the globalized world, they can serve divergent purposes and interests. They can be at the service of deepening the understanding of the modern world, as much as of reproducing structures of domination and maintaining group control and intellectual “franchises.” Therefore, they should not be understood naively and uncritically.
From my perspective, internationalization and inter-institutional collaboration should nurture forms of independent thought that counteract all kinds of obscurantism and the facilities of the co-option of the intelligentsia by the global “power elite.” They need to be the antennas capturing and transmitting the present time signals, mechanisms that help to look at the world and understand Brazil, i.e., to situate Brazil in the course of the world and the course of the world in Brazil. As Celso Furtado said, it is necessary to bring “head, heart in the air of the world,” but to have the thought and desire to transform participation committed to the country’s destinies. Only in this way will the Brazilian human and social sciences have some relevance, be read and discussed, be able to bring some original contribution to universal knowledge.