APP Editors’ Note: SK is a PhD student in philosophy at a Brazilian university.
Before getting underway, I want to stress that what follows is not a condemnation or denunciation of the Brazilian philosophical world, as such, nor is it a full critique–that would require an entire book!—of contemporary Brazilian professional academic philosophy.
Instead, it’s just an insider’s perspective on the way that philosophy has gone in Brazil’s post-graduate philosophy departments over the last 20-or-so years.
Otherwise and more bluntly put, it’s just a simple descriptive demonstration of how real philosophy can be mistreated in many different ways.
To make things clearer, it’s necessary to start with a few comparisons and contrasts with professional academic philosophy in the USA.
It may surprise some that the American model is not one that is necessarily followed by the whole world.
Indeed, Brazilian academic reality is pretty much the opposite of American academic reality.
Most US colleges and universities are private, whereas most Brazilian institutions of higher education are public.
True, Brazil has some important private universities that compare well in influence and reputation with public universities, but when we consider the nature and structure of post-graduate philosophy departments, these are dictated by their inherently public mode of being.
This means, in turn, that the master’s and doctorate degrees in philosophy are dictated by the same public mode of being. So how do public universities work in Brazil?
First, they are supported by government funds. All the money is provided by Brazilian government in one way or another.
Professors’ salaries, student scholarships, conference money, publication money, travel money, even the coffee money!, came and comes from government. Therefore if you are in a public university’s philosophy department, whether as a professor, student, researcher, or other staff employee, then you are, in effect, a functionary of the Brazilian government.
Second, philosophy professors are hired by means of a public process, that in theory is open to anyone.
Once a philosophy professor is approved in the hiring process, then he/she has a few years of probationary status, and after that is practically impossible to get him/her out.
At that stage, the philosophy professor has employment for life, and this in turn implies that he/she can do almost whatever he/she wants to.
If s/he wants to participate in conferences, publish papers, write books, be nice with people; that’s up to him/her.
Even giving classes is not always an obligation. Some professors regularly skip classes and really don’t care about the consequences, simply because they are public employees.
Third, as a student or researcher, one is appointed or hired in the same way.
But as a student or researcher one has to be really, really careful all the time. When one joins a post-graduate philosophy department at a public university, s/he begins by feeling great relief that it is all free. You don’t have to pay for anything and you can get a scholarship!
Then the other shoe drops. In Brazil, the reality is that most good students/researchers desperately need the scholarship in order to live, which is a huge problem because the scholarships are not, to put it mildly, generous. They’re paltry.
Fourth, if one is a master’s student then s/he must be a good slave, a quiet subservient slave—otherwise, it will be almost impossible to reach the PhD level.
And if one is a PhD student, then the enslavement situation is pretty much the same since everybody wants to be hired to a permament position someday.
Fifth, when I say that one must be a quiet subservient slave, I’m not joking!
Brazilian philosophers don’t criticize each other, or their work, very much. Generally speaking, there is no constructive criticism, no critical focusing on important points, or requests for justification of claims.
Instead, you just say “no” to anything that might be interpreted as even mild criticism.
Especially if the criticism has as a target someone higher than you. For every critique can, and will, be easily taken in a totally personal way. And this occurs at all levels: speaking, writing, teaching classes, etc.
There are many stories about students and researchers who have fallen into serious error by daring to criticize a professor – politely!, with arguments, and in good faith – and were severely punished after that.
If someone want to survive as a philosophy student, researcher, or professor, usually s/he desperately needs the scholarship money, and without that, it is in effect impossible to stay inside the academic world. And the permanent professors know that.
Sixth, as I mentioned above, all the money comes from Brazilian government. Not only for philosophy, but as a rule for every discipline and all post-graduate departments.
If the Brazilian state wants to, it can make things very difficult for anyone belonging to the professional academic world. In fact, recently there was a cut of 75% applied to all post-graduation funds.
(Yes, that wasn’t a typo: I really meant seventy-five per cent.)
So Brazilian philosophy in particular and Brazilian professional academics more generally are State structures.
This is not only an economic issue, it is a political matter. The problem is how the State can exert ideological control over everything.
Seventh, now going deeper! The State is everywhere in contemporary professional academic philosophy in Brazil.
That is because we have one controlling government agency for all post-graduate education, called Coordenadoria de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES).
As a sub-part of the Ministry of Education, CAPES claims that its goal is to promote high standards for post-graduate courses in Brazil.
In reality, it is just a thought-and-behavior control agency. CAPES has the money. CAPES has the power. What CAPES wants, CAPES gets.
Eighth, a basic control-mechanism for CAPES is its policy of rating post-graduate programs on a scale between 1 and 7.
The evaluation process is done by other professors and researchers. If you work in University X you can be appointed to a committee for evaluating University Y.
And how can you receive such an excellent appointment?
You must be friend of someone; you must be friend of some academically or politically powerful people; and, above all, you must be capable of following and reproducing State thinking.
When a given post-graduation department is rated 1, 2 or 3, that means that this department can be shot down any time because of insufficient conformity to the CAPES rules and norms.
When a department receives a 4 or 5, that means you are in a medium category, not threatened, but not entirely safe.
With 6 or 7, you are an academic god on earth.
The higher the rating, the more benefits department receives. And this is absolutely important once the research depends on scholarships money, travel money, research money, etc.
Ninth, how can a department rise in the ratings evaluation? One must dance to the music.
Everything is rated. Every little thing is absurdly rated.
If you are a professor you must continuously publish papers. You must do so in a well ranked journal, because all journals – Brazilian or international – are ranked by CAPES.
If one publishes in a low-ranking journal, the whole department is damaged by this act.
But in order to publish in a high-ranking journal, s/he must conform to that journal’s rules and norms.
Although journals are supposedly independent, the basic rules and norms for how anything can be done comes directly from CAPES.
Tenth, so, after all, CAPES controls all philosophy publications.
Publishing books in philosophy is usually seen as a nice thing, but not an important thing. Books are for your Ego, but papers are for the State.
All philosophy professors must create a research project and then submit this to CAPES if they want to receive money and support, not only for them but also for their students.
Eleventh, as a student, one must do only what conforms to the opinions of his/her advisor.
If your advisor doesn’t give a shit, then, paradoxically, you already are immersed in crap.
Everywhere in the system, everyone is “encouraged” to conform. The State wants you to conform. Papers are important because they conform to the rules. Research is important because it is conducted within the standards set by CAPES.
When one seriously considers an academic career, usually, there is very little time to reflect critically about all this. You must decide, right away!, or lose your chance at a place in a post-graduate program and your chance at a scholarship.
Twelfth, it gets even worse.
Remember the evaluation process done by professors and researchers?
What happens when, as people will do because they are only “human, all too human,” they don’t like each other personally?
Or when there is group jealousy or professional rivalry between universities, or between areas of specialization in philosophy?
Well, if you are in the weaker party, away from power, then perhaps you will have much trouble.
Even though you have an excellent research project, if the person evaluating your work is against you in any way, then you are screwed.
Thirteenth, this is not just the good old Analytic vs. Continental problem! Anything can count as a “reason” to justify a bad evaluation. This basically rules out academic rebels and resistance.
– So you don’t want to conform? OK, that’s your choice!
But then you will have no money, no space for publishing papers and/or books and your students, in turn, will suffer for your free thinking and “bad” behavior.
If you write something really valuable philosophically, no one will ever pay any attention to you once you’ve been branded an outsider and trouble-maker.
Fourteenth, there is one more crucial detail to mention about CAPES: it is usually ruled by researchers from hard sciences (mathematics, physics, engineering) and medical sciences.
They tend to hate the human sciences and seek to enforce their own pattern to human sciences.
For example, it’s is common to an engineer, at a conference, to present a poster with a summary of his/her research.
For the purposes of philosophy, the very idea of that seems absolutely absurd. But now young philosophers are forced to present their work in the essay equivalent of posters at conferences—the 20 minute talk!
Once the “hard” sciences control the rules, they force philosophy students to conform to their world.
Of course they provide many self-serving justifications. What functioning State machine is not well-oiled with self-serving justifications?
Fifteenth, now, let’s consider private universities. What’s the difference?
Sadly, not much.
At private universities, the professor’s salaries are provided by the university itself, not by the government. So this is independent of direct government control.
But apart from that, students, researchers, and professors do not really have independence and stability.
Here’s why! Normally, private universities charge students for their Master or PhD courses. But that is just a sham, because the Brazilian government gives scholarships to private universities in the very same way they give them to public universities.
Research money, travel money, conference money, publication money, all this comes mostly from government funding.
So in this way, the State has control over post-graduate philosophy departments at private universities, just as it does over the departments at public universities. You can’t escape the State!
Sixteenth, you can now see how the Brazilian philosophical world is a really totalitarian system.
The rule of constructing such a system is: conform! In every possible way, you must conform!
If you do not do so, then they will destroy your career.
You must occupy all your time with writing superficial papers, and academic politics.
If someone writes a great philosophical book outside of that context; well, it’s a shame, but no one pays any attention whatsoever. But after all, it’s their own fault!
Why? It’s because they have failed to recognize the fundamental truth: professional academic philosophy in Brazil is not actually about real philosophy.
On the contrary, it is actually all about political power, ideological mind-control and behavioral control, and professional academic conformity.
Seventeenth and finally, this is where, for all their differences, tragically, the Brazilian and American philosophical worlds finally converge.