Self-critical reflexion and a commitment for the future

Publisher’s note: Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos is a regular contributor to Othernews.

He has been the subject of serious allegations, which have led him to distance himself rom several academics and civil society organizations. As President of the Othernews Association, I want to reiterate that ON is firmly committed to the dignity of women, against patriarchy and against the tide discrimination against women in the workplace. But I think it is our duty to let the reader decide what material we transmit. In this case, we give space to an explanation from Prof. Boaventura to the accusations to which he was subjected, and which were widely circulated.

Self-critical reflexion and a commitment for the future

By Boaventura de Sousa Santos

In the course of my personal and professional life, alongside my activities as an intellectual, teacher, and activist, I have always fought for human rights, in particular the rights of women, indigenous peoples, and underprivileged minorities in their social, cultural, economic, or any other context.

The phenomenon of machismo, as a social and interpersonal problem with deep roots in our cultural space, affects us all in our human relations, in particular the further away we position ourselves from our own time, when sensibility to the problem is higher, though still not enough.

I was born in 1940 and so belong to a generation to which inappropriate, if not macho, behaviors, were socially accepted. It is not always easy to realize that you are behaving in ways that before were not considered inappropriate. This is not about justifying past behaviors, rather acknowledging what may actually happen and result in hardly constructive actions. I admit that on occasion I may have featured some such behaviors. In that respect, I regret that some people may have suffered or felt discomfort; I therefore owe them an apology.

This gesture in no way implies that I assume the practice of the serious acts that have been recently imputed to me, and I will always fight for the dignity and integrity that I went on building in the course of more than fifty years of effort and dedication. As such, I will continue to dedicate all my efforts to deepen an institutional and interpersonal culture of prevention, detection, condemnation and elimination of macho behaviors in their various manifestations.

Intelectuals such as myself, who have long acknowledged that one of the dimensions of domination in contemporary societies is heteropatriarchy, are particularly required to be vigilant, their vigilance concerning not only epistemology but also their practice, their emotions, and their interpersonal relations. They must not fall into contradiction between what they theoretically defend and their concrete actions in interpersonal and institutional relations.

While feminist culture is not firmly consolidated, it must be recognized that, in the large majority of the cases, women have not found adequate institutional and communicational tools to present their grievances, have their unjust suffering acknolwledged, and get the reparation deemed adequate.

We must be constantly vigilant, since violence against women can take multiple forms. The phenomenon must continue to be thoroughly studied, as well as the factors that promote it, its impacts, and its actions, in order to eradicate them. Particularly serious cases of sexist violence must be thoroughly identified and efficiently punished by criminal justice, with full respect for the right to defense and other principles of democratic justice; the less serious cases should be dealt with according to the principles of restorative justice involving recognition of unjust suffering, joint initiatives (with intermediation of third parties, or not) of care and healing. What is important is that, after the evaluation of and decisions about the cases, feminist culture may emerge reinforced, and not weakened.

As in every interpersonal process there is complexity and exceptions, lynching and cancelling processes must be avoided, and the rights widely acknowledged by democratic justice must be granted. I have always maintained that, since the principal modes of modern domination are heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism (racialization of bodies and of the cultures and practices that deviate from the dominant Eurocentric culture), an alliance must be found between feminist culture and struggles, on the one hand, and anticapitalist and anticolonial cultures and struggles, on the other.

If I on occasion I have not been up to fulfilling and spreading these principles, or have not done enough, such omission only reinforces my commitment of now, more than ever, promoting and defending them.

My commitment for the future is to be ever more vigilant so as to avoid featuring, or contributing to, even if unwillingly, situations that may cause unease or oppression in any context of domination, with special attention to heteropatriarcy. This is by no means a new commitment; it is rather its consolidation through a process of maturation and learning that highlights my duty as the sociologist of my circumstance to read the world by means of the tools at our disposal in 2023.