Boaventura de Sousa Santos

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Boaventura de Sousa Santos
Born Coimbra
Nationality Portuguese
Alma mater University of Coimbra
Awards Premio México de Ciencia y Tecnología (2010)

Boaventura de Sousa Santos is a Professor at the School of Economics at the University of Coimbra, Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, Global Legal Scholar at the University of Warwick and Director of the Centre for Social Studies (CES) at the University of Coimbra.


Boaventura de Sousa Santos was born in Coimbra, the very university town where he would eventually study Law, graduating in 1963. He then went to Berlin for a post-graduate course in the Philosophy of Law. Beyond his studies, he also experienced life in Berlin during the Cold War, when the Berlin Wall divided the city into two. A couple years later he returned to his hometown where worked as a lecturer in the Faculty of Law for a short time. He began to move away from Law, opting for a doctorate in the United States, on the sociology of law, which he pursued at the University of Yale at the end of the 1960s. He has described his experience at Yale to be a “dizzying transformation, both academically and politically”. He moved from criminal law to Criminology, then to the Sociology of Law and, finally, Sociology. He became engaged in an authentic process of discovering Marxism. While acknowledging the limits of Marxism, Santos has more recently described Marxism as an “ongoing discovery.” His PhD thesis was not only a landmark in the Sociology of Law, but has greatly impacted his own life. His fieldwork was based on participant observation, lasting several months, in a Rio de Janeiro slum where he experienced the struggle of the excluded against oppression first hand as learned from the wisdom of men and women struggling for subsistence and for recognition of their dignity.

In 1973, he became one of the founders of the School of Economics at the University of Coimbra, where he opened a Sociology course. In the mid 1980s, he began to structurally adopt the role of a researcher whose understanding the world extended beyond a Western understanding of the world. He has been involved in research in Brazil, Cabo Verde, Macau, Mozambique, South Africa, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and India. He has travelled widely, giving classes and lectures while also extending his range of experiences of learning in the process. He was also one of the driving forces behind the World Social Forum (WSF). The very spirit of WSF is essential to his studies of counter-hegemonic globalisation and to promoting the struggle for global cognitive justice, an underlying concept of “Epistemologies of the South.”

His most recent project - ALICE: Leading Europe to a New Way of Sharing the World Experiences - is funded by an Advanced Grant of the European Research Council (ERC), one of the most prestigious and highly competitive international financial institutes for scientific excellence in Europe. The project was initiated in July 2011 and will continue for the next five years. This project enabled him to gather a team of young researchers from various different countries and academic backgrounds who are committed to collectively developing the lines of research that have emerged from the epistemological, theoretical-analytical and methodological premises of his work that have been consolidated over many years.

He has published widely on globalization, sociology of law and the state, epistemology, democracy, and human rights in Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian, French, German and Mandarin.


Among his most recent and relevant publications are:

  • Toward a New Common Sense: Law, Science and Politics in the Paradigmatic Transition (Routledge, 1995)
  • Toward a New Legal Common Sense. Law, globalization, and emancipation (Butterworths, 2002)
  • The Rise of the Global Left. The World Social Forum and Beyond (Zed Books, 2006)
  • Epistemologies of the South. Justice against Epistemicide (Paradigm Publishers, 2014)
  • O Direito dos Oprimidos (Editora Almedina/Editora Cortez, 2014)
  • A Justiça Popular em Cabo Verde (Editora Almedina/Editora Cortez, 2015)
  • Revueltas de Indignación y Otras Conversas (La Paz, 2015)
  • If God Were a Human Rights Activist (Stanford University Press, 2015)