Saturday, 24 August 2019 03:05 GMT

Sociology and philosophy are just the first victims in Bolsonaro's culture war

Author: Gabriel Silveira de Andrade Antunes

(MENAFN - The Conversation) Censoring words like coup, dictatorship and shooting. Approving formerly prohibited pesticides.Comparing indigenous lands to zoosand their residents to animals. Allowing children toattend training at firing ranges .Celebrating the 1964 coupthat inaugurated a 21-year dictatorship. Threatening teachers who criticise the government. Calling university students 'stupid'.

This is the tone of the new Brazilian administration led by Jair Bolsonaro. Recent attacks on historians, sociologists, and philosophers are in perfect harmony with what is already being called an 'antigovernment'.

On April 25, 2019, Bolsonaro's minister of education, Abraham Weintraub, citedJapan's cutting philosophy and sociology departmentsand said that he considers doing the same. He also asserted philosophy and sociology are only for the rich, who can afford to study by their own means.

Weintraub's actions were supported by Bolsonaro himself the next day on Twitter: his minister was 'planning to decentralise investments in philosophy and sociology (humanities) departments' in order to 'focus on areas that will immediately give the taxpayer a return, like veterinary sciences, engineering and medicine.' According to Bolsonaro, the government has a duty to 'respect taxpayers' money, making sure youth learn how to read, write and do basic math, and then to do a job that will generate income welfare for the family, improving society.'


Under the presidencies of Lula (2003-2010) and Dilma Roussef (2011-2016), both of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party), philosophy and sociology became more present in Brazilian schools. In 2008 they weremade mandatory in high school . After Roussef was removed from power during 2016's'soft coup' , new president Michel Temer made them optional.

Conservative forces have been on the rise in Brazil since at least 2014, with theEscola sem Partido(nonpartisan schools) movement as one of its most visible forms. The group's aim to put an end what it claims is ideological proselytising by humanities teachers. It asserts that they are little more than activists, and has encouraged students tofilm 'biased' teachers .

Bolsonaro and Christian fundamentalists have supported the 'nonpartisan schools' movement since its inception. The themes dearest to this movement – such as the fight against so-called gender ideology – werecentral to his electoral campaign . Right-wing political operatives have been increasingly active in Brazil, most notablyOlavo de Carvalho , an ally of Steve Bannon who is has been referred to as Bolsonaro's 'guru'. Carvalho has been attacking Brazilian public universities for years, in spite – or maybe even because – oftheir importancefor Brazilian scientific production.

Weintraub and Minister of Foreign AffairsErnesto Araújoare both so-called olavistas, that is, under Carvalho's direct influence. Months before assuming his position, Weintraub had alreadyshown his disregard for philosophy departmentsby saying that they should be shut down in universities of the poverty-stricken Northeast in favour of agronomy and engineering.


Experts have pointed out that the measure would not only be unconstitutional and disproportionately affect African-Brazilians, but it would also have little financial impact – philosophy and sociology departments currently receivelimited financial support .

Brazilian writer and philosopher professorLuiz Felipe Pondéstated:

Pondé, the author of Guia Politicamente Incorreto da Filosofia [A Politically Incorrect Guide to Philosophy], defends partnering with the private sector, but points out that the Brazilian elite needs to think further ahead: 'To withdraw funds from the humanities… is absurd, because Brazil is a poor, cultureless country that lacks an intellectual tradition.'

PhilosopherVladimir Safatle , author of A Esquerda que não Teme dizer seu Nome ('The Left that Is not Afraid of Saying Its Name'), states:

The National Association of Graduate Studies in Philosophy (ANPOF)issued a statementrepudiating Weintraub's and Bolsonaro's position: 'Public university students, especially those who study humanities, come predominantly from the lower classes.' The country's social-science associations issued a joint press release stating that 'it is unacceptable… to consider these areas a 'luxury' that can be cut in times of economic crisis such as the current one or be 'demoted' for political-ideological reasons.'

A letter signed bymore than 1,400 academicsfrom around the world defends the public financing of these areas and affirms that 'it is not up to the political class in our democratic societies to decide what constitutes good or bad knowledge.'


After announcing its intention to 'decentralise investment in philosophy and sociology departments', the Brazilian governmentcut thousands of scholarshipsin all areas. Then it announced a suspension of 30% of the discretionary resources ofthree universitieswhose students were supposedly making a 'mess'. The suspension was afterwards extended to all federal institutions of education, both universities and institutes. In response, students and teacherslaunched mass demonstrationsin defence of education.

Thus, what started as an attack on philosophy and sociology education escalated to a generalised economic assault on higher education in Brazil. But Weintraub has assured the population – and the private sector – that its education needs will be met. He says, however, that the public sector is not up to the task. Speaking at the 12th Brazilian Congress of Private Higher Education, Weintraub stated:

Shortly after,shares of the main companies in the sector rose sharply .

This article was co-written with Murilo Rocha Seabra (PhD in anthropology, La Trobe University) and Lúcio Vasconcellos de Verçoza (PhD in sociology for the Federal University of São Carlos and instructor at the Federal University of Alagoas).

This article was originally published inFrench

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Sociology and philosophy are just the first victims in Bolsonaro's culture war


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