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The Birth of the Brazilian people, the University and Popular Knowledge


As a people, Brazilians have not yet finished being born. Representatives of 60 different countries are being mixed here in an open process, that will culminate in the birth of a new people.

From the Colony we inherited a highly selective state, an excluding elite and immense mass of the deprived and the descendants of slaves. In his original interpretation of Brazil, the political analyst Luiz Gonzaga de Souza Lima  tells us that we were born as a Transnational Enterprise, condemned up to the present to be a supplier of natural products for the world market (cf. A refundação do Brasil, 2011).

But in spite of this socio-historical limitation, in the midst of this enormous mass, leaders and movements were slowly maturing that created all types of communities, associations, and groups of action and reflection, ranging from the associations of coconut breakers of the Marañon to the peoples of the jungle of Acre, the landless of the South and the North-East, the base communities, and the unions of the Paulista ABC.

The democracy exercised within these movements engendered active citizens; and from the relations among them, with each maintaining its autonomy, a generating energy of the Brazilian people is being born, that is slowly becoming conscious of its history, and is projecting a different and better future for all.

No process of this magnitude is accomplished without allies, without organic linkage with those who handle a specialized knowledge with the social movements of the committed (los comprometidos). And this is where the University is challenged to broaden its horizon. It is important that educators and students attend the living school of the people, as Paulo Freire did, and that they allow the people to enter the classrooms and listen to the professors on subjects relevant to them, as I myself used to do in my classes at the Rio de Janeiro State University.

This vision presupposes the creation of an alliance of the academic intelligencia with the popular misery. All universities, especially after the 1809 reform of their statute, in Berlin, by Humboldt, that allowed the modern sciences to acquire academic citizenship, alongside the humanistic reflection created by the old university, universities became the classic place for the questioning of culture, of life, of humanity, of human destiny and of God. The two cultures –the humanistic and the scientific– communicate more and more with each other in the sense of thinking of the whole, the destiny of the technical-scientific project itself in the face of the interventions that humans make in nature and humanity’s responsibility for the common future of the nation and of the Earth. This challenge demands a new form of thinking which does not follow a simple, lineal logic, but that of the complex and of dialogue.

The universities are being compelled to search for a way of developing organic roots in the peripheries, in the popular bases and the sectors directly linked to production. Here a fecund interchange of knowledge can be established between popular wisdom, formed by experience, and academic knowledge, based on the spirit of criticism. From this alliance will surely grow a new range of theoretical subjects, born of the contradiction between the popular anti-reality and the valuation of the vast wealth of the people in their capacity to find, by themselves, solutions to their problems. Here occurs an exchange of knowledge, some complimenting others, in the style proposed by Ilya Prigogine, 1977 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry (cf. A nova aliança, UNB 1984).

This union accelerates the genesis of a people; allows for a new type of citizenship, based on the co-citizenship of the representatives of the civil and academic society and the popular bases, that themselves take the initiative and submit the State to democratic control, demanding basic services, especially for the great peripheral populations.

In these popular initiatives, with their distinctive fronts (housing, health, education, human rights, public transportation, etc.), the social movements feel a need for professional knowledge. This is where the university can and must be spreading knowledge, offering guidance for original solutions and opening perspectives sometimes unsuspected by those who are condemned to fight for survival.

From this rich coming-and-going between university thinking and popular knowledge there can appear a bio-regionalism, sufficiently developed for the eco-system and the local culture. From this practice, the public university will regain its public character, and really serve society. And the private university will realize its social function, since in great part it is hostage to the private interests of the classes and is the incubator of their social reproduction.

This dynamic and contradictory process will only prosper if it is imbued with a great dream: to be a new people, autonomous, free and proud of their land. Antropologist Roberto da Matta emphasized that the Brazilian people has created a really enviable patrimony: «all our capacity to synthesize, relate, reconcile, thereby creating zones and values linked to happiness, the future and hope» (Porque o Brasil é Brasil, 1986,121).

In spite of all the historic tribulations, in spite of having been considered, so many times, a Don Nadie and good for nothing, the Brazilian people never lost either its self esteem or its enchanted vision of the world. Brazil is home to a people of great dreams, invincible hope, and generous utopias, a people that feels so impregnated of divine energies that it believes that God is Brazilian.

Perhaps this enchanted vision of the world will be one of the main contributions that we, the Brazilians, can offer to the emerging world culture, with so little magic and such a diminished sensibility for play, humor and the co-existence of the opposites.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,


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