Florestan Fernandes

Florestan Fernandes was a Brazilian sociologist and politician . His biography was marked by being one of the first prominent sociologists formed by the first higher education course in Sociology in Brazil, founded in 1933, at the São Paulo School of Sociology and Politics Foundation (FESSP), an organ that has belonged, since 1934, to the University of São Paulo (USP).

Florestan Fernandes taught sociology at USP, was exiled during the Brazilian military dictatorship and, after his return to Brazil and the re-democratization of Brazilian politics, he was elected federal deputy , serving two terms.

Also read: Darcy Ribeiro – great sociologist from Brazil

Biography of Florestan Fernandes

Florestan Fernandes was born in 1920, in the city of São Paulo . The only son of a single mother, Florestan was raised in tenements in the capital of São Paulo with the help of her godmother, Herminia Bresser. She was the boss of her mother, who worked as a maid. It was at Hermínia Bresser’s house that Florestan got to know the books and realized the importance of the study. Its poor origin awoke him to the importance of analyzing the disparity of social classes present in Brazil.

Still in elementary school (which today corresponds to the first phase of elementary school), Fernandes had to drop out of school to work and supplement his family income (which was composed only of his mother’s income). He was a shoeshine boy, worked in a bakery and in a restaurant.

However, the young thinker never abandoned his taste for study and books. His return to formal studies took place in 1937, when he was 17 years old. He took an accelerated basic education course , similar to what we now call supplementary, being able to apply for a place in Higher Education.

Florestan Fernandes at a conference at the Museum of Fine Arts (1964).

At the age of 21, Florestan Fernandes joined the Social Sciences course at the University of São Paulo, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 1943 and a graduate degree in 1944. Following his academic career, the sociologist studied his master’s degree in Anthropology , also at USP . At that moment, he started an intense ethnographic research that resulted in the dissertation The social organization of the Tupinambá , defended in 1947.

Before completing his master’s degree, the sociologist became teaching assistant to his advisor at USP, professor Fernando Azevedo. Also at that time he began his political activity , when he joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR), an extinct Brazilian left party. In 1951, Florestan Fernandes completed and defended his doctoral thesis, entitled The social function of war in Tupinambá society .

Don’t stop now … There’s more after the publicity;)

In 1953, with the departure of the French sociologist Roger Bastide from USP, Florestan Fernandes took his place by joining the institution as a full professor . Standing out as a brilliant academic, in 1964, Fernandes defended his thesis of free teaching , which would later become the famous book The insertion of the black in class society . A change in the sociological view and the object of study is perceived here, which changed from the Tupinambá Indian to the ethnic-racial issue in capitalism.

Due to political activity in a left-wing party through militancy for the underprivileged and teaching, Florestan Fernandes was arrested in 1964 , when the military coup broke out.

In 1969, a few months after the promulgation of Institutional Act number 5 (the AI-5 ) – this measure overturned civil and constitutional rights and allowed imprisonment without flagrante delicto or prior investigation, made habeas corpus unfeasible and allowed the termination of political mandates, among other atrocities – Fernandes was arrested again, removed from his post at USP and sent into exile , only returning in 1972.

In the period of exile, the sociologist lived and taught in the United States and Canada , which also boosted his career outside Brazil, so much so that, in 1977, he taught as a visiting professor at the traditional Yale University. Also that year, returning again to Brazil, Fernandes became a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP).

In 1979, Fernandes offered a vacation course at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP, his old work environment. What was supposed to be a simple course on the experience of the sociologist in Cuba, has become a very unique view of socialism that mixed the classical and modern interpretations of Marxism.

In the 1980s, the sociologist joined the newborn Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), being elected constituent federal deputy in 1986 and federal deputy in 1990, remaining in the Chamber of Deputies until the end of his second term in 1994. Since 1989, the sociologist has written for a weekly column in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, talking about politics, education, sociology and social issues in Brazil.

His mandates in the Chamber of Deputies were marked by work in favor of public education, free and of quality, and by the defense of the right of marginalized populations and the reduction of social inequalities .

The importance of Florestan Fernandes in defending public education and that of rights can be measured by his participation in the drafting of the 1988 Federal Constitution as a constituent deputy and by his participation in the drafting of Law 9394/96, the Law of Guidelines and Bases of Education (LDB).

In 1994, Fernandes was facing health problems related to his liver . In 1995, the sociologist needed to be hospitalized for complications from his health condition and underwent a liver transplant, at the age of 75, which, unfortunately, ended with his death, on August 10, 1995.

See also: Human rights: set of basic citizen rights

The racial issue

Although Florestan Fernandes’ first works dealt with specific problems in the Tupinambá villages, after all they were focused on anthropological studies, the main milestone of his work is in his thesis of free teaching, published in book form, The insertion of the black in the society of classes . Despite the change of focus, Fernandes did not fail to see the Indian, as a non-white, being excluded in the capitalist scenario of his time.

Slavery in Brazil is the origin of the exclusion of blacks in our society.

Florestan Fernandes’ mature work, as a whole, sees an intersection between social class and color , that is, it sees that the poorest, most marginalized and excluded population is, in general, the non-white population.

The sociologist was very precise in overthrowing what was called the myth of racial democracy , an idea extracted from the work of another sociologist, Gilberto Freyre, who saw a cordial relationship between masters and slaves in Colonial Brazil and saw a different relationship between blacks and white Brazilians in the 20th century, in relation to other countries, such as the United States. Fernandes, in turn, saw that the black population was the most affected by social inequality and that the root of this was found in capitalism.

Social inequality

The issue of social inequality is central to Florestan Fernandes’ work and militancy . In fact, his role as a parliamentarian was aimed at reducing social inequality in Brazil.

The sociologist lived on the periphery as a child, living in ghettos in São Paulo. Since his childhood, when he worked to help his mother, Fernandes realized that the jobs and income of people from the peripheries were drastically inferior and that there was a different treatment given to the people of these places.

Does the student who studies at a rural school like this have the same chances of fitting into society as one who studies at an elite school?

Fernandes realized the almost imperious impossibility of a social rise of black people in the capitalist system . He realized, in sequence, that if capitalism precisely promotes social inequality, the black population in Brazil would always be on the margins of society, if one considers the maintenance of the capitalist system. In this sense, it is necessary to take a position in relation to capitalism so that there is a truly democratic system of greater social equality.


Florestan Fernandes was a staunch defender of democracy . Many opponents in the political field tried to disqualify the sociologist as a democrat for his socialist political position. However, when analyzing his life and work, it is clear that what he defended was democracy as recognition of the rights of all citizens.

In Fernandes’ view, Brazilian democracy was not complete, as it did not reach the periphery, the poorest sections of the population. An effective democracy would be one that would give everyone the right to food, housing and education .

Access also: Knowledge: better understand this concept and its importance


Education is the key to promoting a true democracy in Brazil , which reduces social inequalities and allows a more democratic relationship for the nation as a whole. A defender of education, Fernandes fought as a politician to promote a system that would guarantee secular, public, free and quality schools for all young people in Brazil.


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