Boaventura de Sousa Santos

Leading Portuguese social theorist, director of the Center for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra, has written and published widely on the issue of globalization.


The university in the twenty-first century

Towards a democratic and emancipatory university reform

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.

Beyond abyssal thinking

From global lines to ecologies of knowledges

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.

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?

Boaventura de Sousa Santos argues that the war in Iraq finds its roots in the climate of prevailing neoliberal globalisation and the supposition of total power and violent domination on behalf of the West. The outcome of this genocidal war is as yet uncertain but what is needed immediately is a strategic shift from all global actors – especially the NGOs – to stand up for peace.

What is the current state of globalisation, how are we to understand the processes involved and where will a globalised world system lead us? These are some of the questions Boaventura de Sousa Santos aims to elucidate in a thorough and wide ranging essay.
Arguing that our current globalisation is indeed something unparalleled in history, Santos discusses the unequal economic and political realities between North and South which globalisation enforces. Globalisation is to be understood as a non-linear process marked by contradictory yet parallel discourses and varying levels of intensity and speed. Even states however have to adopt as the supremacy of the nation state is eroded, giving way to new transnational alliances and the convergence of the judicial systems as the supreme regulator of a globalised economy. Will all these processes usher into a new model of social development, or will this lead to the crisis of the world system as others fear?

Boaventura de Sousa Santos sees two different kinds of globalization that now have to enter into a dialouge. As counter-hegemonic globalization grows, the responsibility of its protagonists increases.

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