Boaventura de Sousa Santos

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Boaventura de Sousa Santos
Boaventura de Sousa Santos in 2019
BornNovember 15, 1940
Alma materUniversity of Coimbra
AwardsFrantz Fanon Lifetime Achievement 2022

Boaventura de Sousa Santos GOSE (born November 15, 1940, in Coimbra, Portugal) is a sociologist, professor emeritus at the Department of Sociology of the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra (FEUC), Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School,[1] and Director Emeritus of the Centre for Social Studies (CES) at the University of Coimbra. A Marxist,[2][3][4] outspoken sympathizer and avowed supporter of the Bloco de Esquerda party,[5] he is regarded as one of the most prominent Portuguese living left-wing intellectuals.[6][7] In 2023, after a sexual harassment scandal, the University of Coimbra suspended his academic positions until the events are investigated.[8]

Early life[edit]

Nicola café and restaurant in Ferreira Borges Street, Coimbra, Portugal

Boaventura de Sousa Santos was born on November 15, 1940, in Coimbra, Portugal.[9] His paternal grandparents lived in a small village of São Pedro de Alva, in the municipality of Penacova, 30 km away from Coimbra, where they had a house and farmland employed on the cultivation of corn and potatoes as well as olive orchards and livestock.

His own father was born in that house. Boaventura de Sousa Santos used to spend his school holidays in his grandparents estate helping them on several agricultural tasks and playing with neighbours. An only child, he lived in the city of Coimbra with his parents. His father worked as a chef in the prestigious restaurant Nicola in the downtown of Coimbra, which was frequented by members of the city's academia.[10]


He earned his undergraduate degree in law from the University of Coimbra in 1963 and in 1965 a post-graduate diploma in jurisprudence in West Berlin at the Free University of Berlin. He went on to pursue a doctorate on the sociology of law at Yale University[1] from 1969 to 1973.[11] In 1973, he became one of the co-founders of the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra (FEUC), where he opened a sociology course. Since 1978, he was also founder and director of the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra (CES, Centro de Estudos Sociais).[12][13] In the mid-1980s, he began to structurally adopt the role of a researcher whose understanding of the world extended beyond a Western perspective. He was a Global Legal Scholar at the University of Warwick and visiting professor at Birkbeck College, University of London[14] and has been involved in research in Brazil, Cabo Verde, Macau, Mozambique, South Africa, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and India.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos in 2007

He has travelled widely, giving classes and lectures while also extending his range of experiences of learning in the process. He was one of the driving forces behind the World Social Forum, the spirit of which he considers essential to his studies of counter-hegemonic globalization and to promoting the struggle for global cognitive justice, an underlying concept of “Epistemologies of the South.”[15] According to senior researchers of the CES, the research unit increasingly avoided the classical themes of the field of sociology to focus almost entirely on the Epistemologies of the South, which define the work of its director emeritus Boaventura de Sousa Santos. According to them, this line became "hegemonic" and came to resemble a "cult".[16]

Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos at the 6th World Forum of Judges, Brazil, 2010

He has written and published widely on the issues of globalization, sociology of law and the state, epistemology, social movements and the World Social Forum in Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian, French, German, Chinese, Danish, Romanian and Polish. He has been awarded several prizes, most recently Frantz Fanon Lifetime Achievement 2022, by the Caribbean Philosophical Association; Science and Technology Prize of Mexico, 2010; the Kalven Jr. Prize of the Law and Society Association, 2011.

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 enabled him to gather a team of young researchers from various different countries and academic backgrounds who are committed to collectively develop the lines of research that have emerged from the epistemological, theoretical-analytical and methodological premises of the work he has consolidated over many years.

The main idea underlying ALICE is to create a decentered conception of the anti-imperial South, in which Africa and Asia also find their place in a broader and more liberating conversation of humankind.[17] A premise of ALICE is to bring to light the notion that the “Eurocentric world has not much to teach the wider world anymore and is almost incapable of learning from the experience of such a wider world, given the colonialist arrogance that still survives.”[18]


We have the right to be equal whenever difference diminishes us; we have the right to be different whenever equality decharacterizes us.

— Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2001)[19]

Boaventura de Sousa Santos has been engaged in a process of re-discovering Marxism. While acknowledging the limits of Marxism, Santos has more recently described Marxism as an “ongoing discovery.”[citation needed] During his studies in West Berlin, he was immersed in a university community that aspired to democratic values, while living in the context of the Cold War. This also allowed him to experience the stark contrast between the communist influence in East Germany and the liberal democratic ideology in West Germany.[17]

In 1970 Sousa Santos traveled to Brazil in order to do field research for his doctoral dissertation. His work was focused on the social organization of the construction of parallel legality in illegal communities, the favelas or squatter settlements.[17]

Sousa Santos (left) being awarded a doctorate honoris causa by the University of Brasília, in Brazil, 2012

In the mid-1980s, he began to structurally adopt the role of a researcher whose understanding of the world extended beyond a Western perspective. His fieldwork was based on participant observation, lasting several months, in a Rio de Janeiro slum where he experienced the struggle of the excluded populations against oppression first hand. There, he learned from the wisdom of men and women struggling for subsistence and for recognition of their dignity. Sousa Santos believes in the importance of the social scientist striving for objectivity, not neutrality.[20]

Sociology of absences[edit]

Inquietude class of Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Brasília, Brazil, 2012

The sociology of absences is a sociological theory developed by Boaventura De Sousa Santos which, he says, "aims to show that what does not exist is in fact actively produced as non-existent, that is to say as an unbelievable alternative to what is supposed to exist”.[21][22]

Southern epistemologies. Citizen movements and controversy over science is the title of the work in which Boaventura proposes this notion, which is articulated around the following thesis: “global justice is not possible without global cognitive justice".[23]

Sexual and moral harassment allegations[edit]

Entrance to the parking lot near the premises of the Centre for Social Studies (white facade on the left) at the Pólo I campus of the University of Coimbra

Initial allegations[edit]

In April 2023, the sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, 82, emeritus director of Centro de Estudos Sociais (CES) of the University of Coimbra, was implicated in an article on sexual, moral and labour harassment.[24] The alleged cases were reported in a book chapter by three former researchers from CES: Lieselotte Viaene, Catarina Laranjeiro and Miye Nadya Tom – a Belgian, a Portuguese and a North American. The chapter, entitled “The walls spoke when no one else would”,was included in the book Sexual Misconduct in Academia published by Routledge.[25] Despite not revealing names, the female researchers’ curricula indicated that the centre in question was CES and its director, under the code name of Star Professor, Boaventura de Sousa Santos. In the chapter, the Star Professor is accused of harassing female students and exploiting his research assistants.

Contacted by Diário de Notícias, Boaventura de Sousa Santos denied all the accusations of misconduct and claimed he is being a cancel culture victim[26].[i] According to the academic, he has never met two of the co-authors, Catarina Laranjeiro and Miye Nadya Tom. With Lieselotte Viaene he had two meetings, one to discuss her stay CES as a Marie Curie Fellow and another one "to solve the problems of incorrect and undisciplined behavior". He explained that CES subjected her to a disciplinary procedure and denied being host institution of her ERC Grant application. Sousa Santos states this case as the main motivation behind the accusations, classifying them as a "despicable act of institutional and personal revenge".[27]

Further accusations[edit]

After those declarations became public, the Brazilian congresswoman, and member of the Municipal Chamber of Belo Horizonte, Bella Gonçalves, a politician of Brazil's Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL),[28] former student at the research centre CES in Coimbra, announced she had been sexually assaulted by Boaventura de Sousa Santos in the exact same way described in the article.[29] In 2014, the year of the episode, she was under 30 and the professor was over 70 when she received an invitation to discuss her research work at Sousa Santos' apartment and was touched inappropriately while Sousa Santos suggested a sexual relationship in exchange for academic support.[30] Because she did not give in to harassment, she suffered reprisals from the professor. The day after the supposed invitation to "deepen the relationship", Boaventura Sousa Santos would have criticised "in an aggressive way" the work that she and her boyfriend, who was also a student at CES, had been developing. She told the newspaper that, at the time, she reported the case to the CES management, who would have suggested she changed her advisor, arguing the professor was "untouchable".[31] She says that because of what happened, she decided to return to Brazil and finish her doctorate degree at a local university. After returning to Brazil, the former student says, she received an email from Boaventura de Sousa Santos. In it, the professor is said to have apologised for his behaviour, excusing himself by saying that he had fallen in love with her.[32]

Moira Millán at the 3rd Encuentro Latinoamericano de Feminismos ELLA, a Latin American feminist meeting that took place in La Plata, Argentina, in December 2018

The Argentinean indigenous left-wing activist Moira Ivana Millán had already told an Argentinean radio program about an episode of harassment to which she was subjected in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2010, by sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos when the man was around 70 and Moira Millán was 40, accusing him of conducts of moral and sexual harassment. Boaventura de Sousa Santos denied the accusations, stated that he never assaulted the Argentinian activist, was always polite and professional, didn't assault her, he was always polite and professional, including at the restaurant O Trovador, never invited her into his house, and emails were exchanged in a cordial tone between them after her stay in Coimbra. Boaventura de Sousa Santos published the email exchange between himself and Moira Millán, before and after her visit to CES.[33][34]

Boaventura de Sousa Santos decided to suspend all his activities at CES [35] and made himself available to any investigation,[36][37] urging for an independent commission to be created to clarify the facts as soon as possible. Furthermore, de Sousa writes an opinion article published by different media[38] in which he shows self-criticism regarding the events described in the accusations, highlighting his constant fight for equality throughout his career and once again expressing his willingness to open any investigation to clarify the facts. The independent commission was finally created in September 2023 and will publish its conclusions by December 2023.[39]


More than 250 academics and cultural workers have been signing a manifesto first made public in April 2023 supporting the three women who co-authored the aforementioned chapter, as if they had suffered sexual harassment at CES, which they don't claim, as well as all victims of sexual harassment anywhere.[40]

However, more than 80 prestigious personalities, researchers, teachers and people from the academic world, such as the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, signed a manifesto of support and defense of Boaventura de Sousa Santos,[41] [42]who, according to what they say, "it is suffering from a smear campaign based on unproven accusations."

Furthermore, there have been some people within the Academy who have criticized the procedure of the article itself. An example is that of the professors at the University of Seville and Pablo Olavide, Ángeles Castaño and Elodia Hernández, also promoters of the Iberian Network of Southern Epistemologies, who produced an opinion article[43] in April in which they questioned the accusations existing and describe the text as not complying with any ethnographic methodology, describing the methodological justification as a farce and concluding that such accusations only help to dehumanize the Academy.

Another example is that of the Ecuadorian economist and PhD in Economics from the Grenoble-Alpes University, who questions the analysis of the three authors in an opinion article entitled "The case of Boaventura de Souza Santos: a public vindictive that needs to be deconstructed[44]".

For his part, Luis Nassif, a Brazilian journalist, analyzes the case and also expresses his support for Boaventura de Sousa Santos in his article "Boaventura e os justiceiros da legalidade".[45]

Personal life[edit]

Boaventura de Sousa Santos is married[46] to Maria Irene Ramalho, professor emerita of American Studies and Feminist Studies[46] at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Coimbra (FLUC), as well as a former Assistant Professor International in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.[47] She was also a researcher at the Centre for Social Studies (CES) founded and led by his husband Boaventura de Sousa Santos,[48][49] as well as a member of the CES ethics committee.[50] The couple has children.[47] He owns the farmhouse in Penacova that belonged to his paternal grandparents before belonging to his father, and uses it as a second home after his main residence in Coimbra.[10] He has the eye condition called amblyopia.

Selected works[edit]

His PhD thesis has not only been considered a landmark in the Sociology of Law, but has greatly impacted his life. He has published widely on globalization, sociology of law and the state, epistemology, democracy and human rights, and his works have been published in Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian, French, German and Mandarin.

Among his most recent and relevant publications are:[51][52][53]

  • 1991: State, Law and Social Struggles.
  • 1998: Reinventing Democracy, Reinventing the State. 1998. Lisbon.
  • 1998: La globalización del derecho: los nuevos caminos de la regulación y la emancipación (The globalization of law: the new paths of regulation and emancipation). Bogotá: ILSA, Ediciones Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
  • 1998: De la mano de Alicia. Lo Social y lo político en la postmodernidad. Bogotá: Siglo del Hombre Editores and Universidad de los Andes.
  • 2000: Critique of the Indolent Reason. Against the waste of experience. Bilbao: Editora Desclée de Brouwer.
  • 2004: Democracy and Participation: El ejemplo del presupuesto participativo de Porto Alegre. Mexico: Quito: Abya-yala. ISBN 978-968-16-7255-3
  • 2004: Democratizar la democracia: Los caminos de la democracia participativa. Mexico: F.C.E. ISBN 978-968-16-7255-3
  • 2004: Escrita INKZ. Anti-manifesto para uma arte incapaz. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano.
  • 2005: World Social Forum. Manual de Uso. Barcelona: Icaria.
  • 2005: El milenio huérfano: ensayo para una nueva cultura política. Madrid: Trotta. ISBN 978-84-8164-750-1
  • 2005: La universidad en el siglo xxi. Para una reforma democrática y emancipadora de la universidad (with Naomar de Almeida Filho). Miño y Dávila Editores.
  • 2006 : The Heterogeneous State and Legal Pluralism in Mozambique, Law & Society Review, 40, 1: 39-75.
  • 2007: The Reinvention of the State and the Plurinational State. Cochabamba: International Alliance CENDA-CEJIS-CEDIB, Bolivia.
  • 2007: Law and globalization from below. Towards a cosmopolitan legality. With Rodríguez Garavito, César A. (Eds.), Barcelona: Univ. Autónoma Metropolitan de México / Anthropos. ISBN 978-84-7658-834-5
  • 2008: Conocer desde el Sur: Para una cultura política emancipatoria. La Paz: Plural Editores.
  • 2008: Reiventar la democracia, reinventar el estado (Reviving democracy, reinventing the state). Spain: Sequitur.
  • 2009: Critical Legal Sociology: For a New Common Sense of Law. Madrid: Trotta. ISBN 978-84-8164-983-3
  • 2009: Thinking the State and Society: Current Challenges. Argentina: Hydra Books. ISBN 978-987-25178-1-6
  • 2009: An epistemology of the SOUTH. With María Paula (Eds.) Mexico: Siglo XXI Editores.
  • 2010: Refounding the State in Latin America: Perspectives from an Epistemology of the South. Mexico: Siglo XXI Editores. ISBN 978-607-03-0242-8
  • 2010: Decolonizing knowledge, reinventing power. Uruguay: Trilce Editorial. ISBN 978-9974-32-546-3
  • 2011: To decolonize the West. Beyond abysmal thinking. San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas: Editorial Cideci Unitierra.
  • 2011: Law and emancipation. Quito: Constitutional Court for the Transition Period.
  • 2012: From dualities to ecologies. La Paz: REMTE-Bolivian Network of Women Transforming the Economy.
  • 2014: Human rights, democracy and development. Bogotá: Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society, Dejusticia.
  • 2014: Democracy on the brink of chaos. Essay against self-flagellation. Bogotá: Siglo Del Hombre Editores/Siglo XXI Editores.
  • 2014: If God were a human rights activist. Madrid: Editorial Trotta.
  • 2014: Spistemologies of the South (perspectives). Co-authored by Maria Paula Meneses. Editorial Akal ISBN 978-84-460-3955-6.
  • 2015: Revueltas de indignación y otras conversas. La Paz: OXFAM; CIDES-UMSA; Ministry of Autonomies.
  • 2016: The difficult democracy. Una mirada desde la periferia Europea Editorial Akal.
  • 2017: Las bifurcaciones del orden. Revolution, city, countryside and indignation. Madrid: Trotta. ISBN 978-84-9879-728-2.
  • 2017: Demodiversity. Imagining New Democratic Possibilities. Co-authored by José Manuel Mendes. Madrid: Akal. ISBN 978-607-97537-5-7
  • 2017: Justicia entre Saberes: Epistemologías del sur contra el Epistemicidio. Madrid: Morata.
  • 2018: Leftists of the world, unite! Barcelona: Icaria. ISBN 978-84-9888-875-1.
  • 2018: Constructing the Epistemologies of the South. Antología Esencial (two volumes). Buenos Aires: CLACSO. ISBN 978-987-722-364-4
  • 2019: The End of the Cognitive Empire. La afirmación de las epistemologías del Sur. Madrid: Trotta. ISBN 978-84-9879-780-0
  • 2019: The pluriverse of human rights. The diversity of struggles for dignity. Co-authored by Bruno Sena. Madrid: Akal. ISBN 978-607-98185-6-2
  • 2019: Global learnings. Decolonizing, demercantilizing and depatriarchalizing from epistemologies of the South. Co-authored by Antoni Aguiló. Barcelona: Icaria. ISBN 978-84-9888-874-4.
  • 2020: Knowledge born in struggles. Constructing epistemologies of the South. Co-authored by Maria Paula Meneses. Madrid: Akal. ISBN 978-607-8683-38-3.
  • 2020: In the workshop of the artisan sociologist. Madrid: Morata. ISBN 978-84-7112-987-1
  • 2020: The cruel pedagogy of the virus. Translation by Paula Vasile. Buenos Aires: CLACSO. ISBN 978-987-722-599-0
  • 2021: The future begins now. From pandemic to utopia. Madrid: Akal. ISBN 978-84-460-4976-0
  • 2021: Decolonizing Constitutionalism. Beyond false or impossible promises. Co-authored by Sara Araújo and Orlando Aragón Andrade. Madrid: Akal. ISBN 978-607-8683-59-8
  • 2022: Economies of Good Living. Against the waste of experiences. Co-authored by Teresa Cunha. Madrid: Akal. ISBN 978-607-8683-97-0


  • 1994 - Pen Club Português 1994 Prize.
  • 1996 - Grand Officer of the Order of Saint James of the Sword[54]
  • 1996 - Grand Officer of the Order of Rio Branco, Brazil.
  • 1996 - Gulbenkian Science Prize.
  • 2001 - Jabuti Award - Area of Human Sciences and Education, Brazil.
  • 2005 - "Recognition of Merit" Award, granted by Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico.
  • 2006 - Ezequiel Martínez Estrada Essay Award 2006, from Casa de las Américas, Cuba.
  • 2007 - Honorable mention of the "Premio Libertador al Pensamiento Crítico - *2006", Venezuela.
  • 2009 - Adam Podgórecki Award, International Sociological Association.
  • 2010 - National Award for Science and Technology, Mexico.
  • 2012 - Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Brasilia, Brazil.
  • 2013 - National Poetry Award Vila de Fânzeres, for the work "Pomada em Pó", Portugal.
  • 2014 - Doctor Honoris Causa by Universidade Federal de Sergipe, Brazil.
  • 2014 - Doctor Honoris Causa by Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, Brazil.
  • 2016 - Title of Citizen of Porto Alegre, granted by the City Council of Porto Alegre, Brazil.
  • 2016 - Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Cordoba, Argentina.
  • 2016 - Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • 2017 - Doctor Honoris Causa from the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, Mexico.
  • 2018 - Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Coruña, Spain.
  • 2019 - Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Costa Rica, Costa Rica.


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  38. ^ "Una reflexión autocrítica: un compromiso con el futuro".
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  45. ^ "Boaventura e os justiceiros da legalidade, por Luís Nassif".
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