He came from a poor family with his mother being a "washerwoman". In youth he took a series of odd jobs and had an erratic education until he attended the university in 1941. In 1945 he graduated and by 1964 was a full professor in sociology. In that same year he won the Prêmio Jabuti. In 1969 he fled to Canada for political reasons and began to teach at the University of Toronto. In 1973 he returned to Brazil and became involved in the Partido dos Trabalhadores. At 75 he died of an embolism.