Mind Straitjacket

    Mind
Straitjacket

    Brazilian scholars ape foreign trends in order to be seen as
    more up-to-date. This superficial use of foreign authorities and even of
    fashionable terminology or jargon disenfranchises people and discourages critical thought.
    External censorship, prevailing in the military period, has been replaced by a much more
    deleterious inner censorship.
    By Pedro Paulo A. Funari

    What is the current status of academic freedom in Brazil? Academic freedom in Brazil,
    as in other countries that experienced dictatorship, is a matter of particular concern and
    a sensitive issue. Intellectuals are therefore quite aware of the political
    implications of what they say and do. Brazil was ruled by the military for twenty one
    years (1964-1985) and the scars caused by authoritarian rule are still very much with us.

    Nor can academic freedom be dissociated from society and Brazilian society has
    from its inception been authoritarian and patriarchal, dominated by patronage and
    hierarchy. Brazil has been described as a country without citizens, where there are
    dependents and vassals and where privileges are granted to people in power. The
    result is a most uneven society, with the 10% richest people getting 47% of the GDP, while
    the poorest 10% gets only 0.8%.

    In this context, intellectuals have traditionally been people from the ruling elites
    and the main obstacle to their freedom came not from the state but from their peers. As
    patronage is pervasive, critical approaches are not welcome. In the Brazilian
    academic world, scholars are encouraged to exchange favors, in a "give and take"
    attitude (following the Roman do ut des approach).

    Accordingly, the best way to survive within the intelligentsia has always been
    to eulogize intellectual authorities, be they university deans and presidents or state
    officials. Since the 1930s, when Brazil’s first universities were founded, the
    opportunities for people from outside the elite to become academics have increased,
    despite the continuing constraints of the clientage system.

    Especially in the years after the Second World War, academic freedom expanded
    considerably, although professors still held significant power over ordinary scholars.
    Professors, who were not always scholars, were appointed by university authorities
    interested in promoting friends and acquaintances, while ordinary lecturers, who studied
    and got academic degrees, were kept in junior positions without tenure.

    When the military took over in 1964 there was strong opposition from some scholars, as
    restrictions on freedom of speech run directly counter to academic independence. The
    academy was quickly targeted by the military authorities concerned with what they
    considered to be subversion. First, the military imposed censorship and reduced funding,
    then came the expulsion of scholars, finally free thinkers were tortured and
    killed.

    As Aziz Ab’ Saber, a leading scholar who survived this nightmare, put it recently, "it
    was forbidden to think." In the words of another academic Francisco Iglésias,
    "A lot of people suffered, were exiled, tortured, killed." Many leading
    intellectuals had their academic freedom severely affected, most were exiled, like
    Fernando Henrique Cardoso (the current President of Brazil), Maria Ieda Linhares,
    Ciro Flamarion Santana Cardoso. Hundreds of others were expelled from the academy.
    Perhaps the most well-known victim was Paulo Duarte, a leading humanist who
    had fought against dictatorship since the Second World War, and who was expelled by
    collaborationist academic authorities in 1969.

    The end of military rule in 1985 left the same people in power; and within the
    academic world the most of the collaborators retained their authority. Nonetheless, the
    restoration of civilian rule meant freedom of speech; and, in response, free expression
    sprouted in the last fifteen years. At the same time, the enticements of power were
    not negligible, and several intellectuals, attracted by the opportunity to gain influence,
    tailored their work to the demands of the entrenched authorities and then, when they
    achieved power themselves, were able to win additional credence for the theoretical
    frameworks through which they provided intellectual support for globalization.

    This is the case, ironically, of several former exiles, like the President himself,
    Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and a host of ministers and other high officials. Through the
    systematic denial of other interpretations, they establish a discursive field constraining
    other academics to comply or to be excluded from funding and power. Academics are
    led to carry out studies confirming fashionable ideas, particularly those sponsored by
    official institutions and funding programs.

    In a society grounded on patronage, to follow official policies is more important than
    elsewhere, and the temptation to parrot the established ideas and canonic authors is
    palpable. There are even scholars who consider that favor is not a threat to academic
    freedom: "The political culture of favor does not necessarily entail submission and
    inequality," suggests a scholar, "it can also bring rights, equality,
    justice and, why not?, fraternity." However, "fraternity" is a symptomatic
    word, as it refers to brothers in a hierarchic system, thus limiting freedom and
    constraining scholars to compromise their freedom in order to take part in the academic
    brotherhood.

    Nowadays, academic freedom is thus hindered not by the state, as was the case during
    the dictatorship, but by two different but concurring sources. Globalization is clearly
    the leading maître mot used by the dominant scholars and research foundations to
    promote their concepts as the only valid and acceptable ones. Scholars ape foreign trends
    in order to be seen as more up-to-date.

    This superficial use of foreign authorities and even of fashionable terminology
    or jargon disenfranchises people and discourages critical thought. Globalization also
    affects academic freedom in Brazil by accentuating the imbalances between the tiny
    minority of professors with access to the internet and ordinary academics with difficult
    or no access. This varies by discipline, with the humanities, in particular, lagging
    behind.

    An even more important threat to academic freedom is the patronage-ridden academic
    system itself which enforces compliance with official policies. As Milton Santos, a
    leading scholar and geographer exiled during the dictatorship and one of the few black
    intellectuals in the country, said recently, "to look for new ideas is
    dangerous."

    This is because the patronage that pervades every institution, from small towns to
    states, from university departments to ministerial offices in Brasília, means that
    scholars are pressed to put their academic freedom on hold, so that they can be in good
    terms with both official policies and funding and with colleagues in academic posts.

    Young scholars are particularly vulnerable to persecution. Walter Alves Neves and
    Solange Caldarelli were expelled from the University of São Paulo some years ago when a
    dean decided that she did not agree with their ideas about prehistoric settlement. Eduardo
    Góes Neves was also subjected to threats from a senior scholar, who tried,
    unsuccessfully, to get the University Chancellor to fire him just because the young
    archeologist disputed her claims about a very early occupation of Brazil some fifty
    thousand years ago, a claim, by the way, not accepted by almost every serious foreign
    specialist. These are clear examples of how scientific disagreements can become threats
    within the Brazilian scholarly world.

    Nowadays, another way of limiting the freedom of scholars is just to stop or reduce
    funding for scientific research. This strategy was widely used during military rule,
    against scholars and institutions that did not conform. The Institute for Prehistoric
    Studies, in São Paulo was affected by such cuts during the 1960s and 1970s, as were
    departments from the humanities to the medical sciences at many universities throughout
    the country. Recently though, the authorities are disguising the reasons for their
    cutbacks, claiming that the reduced funding stems from the search for globalization and
    modernity.

    These cutbacks have been extensive and public universities have sometimes been
    without funds to pay for toilet paper! Engineering research centers in Rio de Janeiro have
    been subjected to reductions, because, according to the authorities, they were "too
    nationalist." The lack of funds has been used as an excuse to close down departments
    and research units, affecting scholars studying such subjects as eastern and dead
    languages (Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese) , archaeology and
    even non-applied, so called pure sciences, like physics. Naturally, these cut-backs
    have only increased the public and private pressures on the already underpaid lecturers at
    state institutions.

    Academic freedom thus faces new challenges in the late nineteen nineties, as the
    earlier external censorship, prevailing in the military period, has been replaced by a
    much more deleterious inner censorship. To deviate from dominant discourse is to risk
    retaliation from people and institutions with power. It is perhaps a mixed feature of
    postmodern times in Brazil that academic freedom is threatened not by the sheer use of
    force, as had been the case for several years, but by a most insidious internalization of
    docility, as well as by the dominant discourse that favors market oriented research.

    This paper first appeared in Academe, publication of the American Association of
    University Professors, 1999, July/August, pp. 22-25.

    Pedro Paulo A. Funari, BA, MA, Ph.D., is an archaeologist, University of
    Campinas professor, author of several books and papers. You can contact him at pedrofunari@sti.com.br

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