Boaventura de Sousa Santos

The reaction from universities to demands for reform – both from the private sector and society – has been a state of paralysis and resistance in the name of autonomy and academic freedom. The only way universities can recover from their crisis legitimacy, writes Boaventura de Sousa Santos, is through radical democratic restructuring. Countering the brain-drain from poorer to wealthy nations – so far the main result of the transnationalization of education – will only be achieved by embarking on a counter-hegemonic process of globalization creating genuine equality of access.

What are the historic roots, social preconditions, and future chances for the participatory democracy movements of the recent years? In this text, an introduction to a book containing case studies of recent democratic movements in Brazil, Columbia, Mozambique, Portugal and India, Boaventura de Sousa Santos and Leonardo Avritzer aim to shed light on the future developments of democratic nation states in the 21 century.
Participatory democracy, they argue, can act as social emancipatory movements, since they work for more social alternatives than the ones imposed by the states and economic conditions. Moreover, they serve to redefine more inclusive social identities, as well as acting as truly transnational democratic units.
Yet if the purpose of such participatory democracy movements is the reinvention of social emancipation, can they really bridge the gap between governmental and financial constraints, economic imperatives and the dynamics of grassroots activism? And in what ways are participatory social movements susceptible to misconduct and corruption?

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Modern Western thinking continues to operate along abyssal lines that divide the human from the sub-human, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos in a fundamental article. The “Western” side of this line is ruled by a dichotomy of regulation and emancipation, and the other by appropriation and violence. The only way to capture the full measure of what is going on, writes Santos, is a gigantic decentring effort. The struggle for global social justice must be a struggle for global cognitive justice as well. In order to succeed, this struggle requires a new kind of thinking, a post-abyssal thinking.