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Global Studies in Brazil


Opening Remarks and Keynote Talk by Paul Amar: “Global Studies: Interdisciplinary Education, Citizenship and the University”


Welcome, everyone to the minicurso! I am thrilled to launch this first major event of a significant international collaboration between scholars, researchers, professors, activists and policy makers from the United States and Brazil as well as from India, China, Senegal and around the world. Through the process of the minicurso, we will aim for three objectives: (1) to form a cohort of students who have a proficiency in the interdisciplinary field of study called Global Studies; (2) to identify and analyze the interests among professors, students and the public in issue areas identified with the field of Global Studies; and (3) to plan for the launch of an institution to sustain networking, research, and transformational public policy and pedagogical innovation, that we call a Núcleo or Centro de Estudos Globais with a concentration in Social Sciences here at UERJ perhaps in association with other universities such as UFRJ, UFF, etc. 

As my colleagues have stated before me in the introductory panel, the field of Global Studies is quite different from that of International Relations or any other current field of study. But it is not isolated, but rather a uniting and dynamic intersection that brings together the most engaged elements of the humanistic social sciences, and the public facing ethic of university education.  Many disciplines in the social sciences and humanities are shaped by what we call “methodological nationalism” – where the unit of analysis or the frame of reference is assumed to be the nation or the nation-state. And funding structures, coming from the state understandably invest in research and education that aim at solving national and local problems within the borders of the nation it governs. American sociologists study class, urban, or gender patterns among US populations. French historians study the history of France.  Brazilian anthropologists might study cultures and religious formations within Brazil. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this and this is an important means of investing in society, strengthening citizenship, and addressing issues of the common good.

However, the age we live in is one in which “methodological nationalism” is often inadequate for capturing the scale of the most urgent questions we ask ourselves as a society.  How can we research and address planetary ecological crises, climate change, deforestation, ocean pollution, and pandemics?  How can we trace the global and transcontinental histories and solidarities between Indigenous struggles around the world?  What perspectives illuminate the struggles for justice and dignity among peoples of the African diaspora or among migrants between countries of the Americas or from Asia?  What transnational patterns and factors unite or differentiate between flows of new charismatic religious or populist political trends, and their utilization of global media and communications technologies?

All of these questions, perhaps some of the most important of our era, are both essentially global in scale – their socio-historical origins and cultural-biopolitical impact cannot be limited to one national context.  But also, equally importantly, none of these questions can be researched or addressed without full participation of local communities and without innovation in collaborative methods and public-facing structures of pedagogy and production of knowledge.

We know now that research done about ecology or climate change without the participation and co-leadership of marginalized communities leads to devastating re-marginalization and patterns of environmental racism or community displacement.  We know that research on culture, or religion or identity that is performed without engagement of publics and communities produces simplification, stereotypes, and normative or patriarchal assumptions, etc.

In this context, the field of Global Studies is emerging as an extremely popular and relevant field of study around the world.  Below I will briefly trace the history of the field and of some of the key concepts and pillars upon which it is based.


The Object of the Global

For some scholars, the field of Global Studies dates back only to the 1990s, during a moment after the end of the Cold War, when the hegemony of certain forms of trade, financial, cultural and population flows constituted what many commentators recognized as “globalization” – a set of relations overwhelmingly identified with neoliberal capitalism and US hegemony. I will discuss this moment of the 1990s in a different frame below. But first I want to acknowledge that most Global Studies in the United States today come from a perspective identified with more emancipatory, decolonial or socially engaged perspectives that trace the origins of the field of Global Studies to a much earlier origin.

Explicitly global forms of knowledge production date back to much earlier periods of research, writing, analysis and trans-continental struggle and communication. In 1524, the Council of the Indies in Spain were created, where Indigenous resistance and activism, channeled by Dominican Friar Bartolomeo das Casas succeeded in convincing the council to abolish slavery for Indigenous peoples, although this victory was reversed years later and genocide continued. In the 1526 the King of the Reino do Kongo (today’s Angola and Southern Congo) wrote a law abolishing slavery and demanded strict regulation of shipping Africans to Brazil. As a result, the Portuguese established its first military base in the area to force him to back down.  Dialogues around abolition as well as ending the racist, genocidal and homophobic practices of the Inquisition, were already a global conversation between the Americas, Europe and Africa, in the early 1500s.  Transcontinental activism around religious inquisition, racialized genocide, human rights, and planetary social justice – with Indigenous, Black and activist leadership networked across continental and oceanic divides, are older than modernity itself.

Jumping forward to the 19th century, in the wake of the Haitian Revolution of 1804, the first colonized and enslaved people (not white settlers) to throw out their colonial masters and declare a modern independent republic.  In the 1830s and 1840s a wave of transformative revolutions and rebellions, sharing anti-colonial, liberal, and emancipatory ideologies crossed the globe and created a planetary moment of total transformation – the Bolivarian wars of Independence in the Andes between 1819-1825, the Opium Wars in China as China rose up against the forcibly narcotic capitalism and regime of Victorian sexual repression imposed by the British, the first Independence wars and mutinies in India, quilombo and maroon republics launched by emancipation and autonomy activists in the Caribbean and Brazil, the Liberal Revolutions of Europe in 1848 that gave birth to both modern liberalism and socialism, the war over abolition in the United States.  This was an intensely global period from which emerged so many of the educational, political, juridical, and university structures of the modern period, as well as the shift to global industrial and commercial capitalism.  And it is important to note that in this period, the discourse of nation-state based notions of identity and of sovereignty were not necessarily fixed.  The connectivities between writers, thinkers, educators and activists at this time compared and connected the world and its struggles in common frameworks, which enabled the spread of solidarity and transformational consciousness.

Around 1919, after World War I and continuing through World War II and the anti-colonial independence struggles in Asia and African during the 1970s, nationalism and the establishment of viable supposedly independent nation states was the global norm.  These emerging states were often defined by a developmentalist project and led by strong, patriarchally-styled man, often with a military elite at the center of power or close to the center. During the 1950s through the 1970s an alternative Non-Aligned, or Third Worldist order, launched most visibly during the Bandung Conference for Afro-Asian Solidarity in offered an anti-imperialist, global-south centered, anti-dependency and anti-war vision of a future global and planetary order.  However, this Non-aligned vision was defined by a set of highly nationalist leaders, by necessity, due to the continuing need to resist recolonization or Cold War interference by superpowers. But after the end of the Cold War, a new opening for a more global and less nationalistic frame of reference emerged.

Now, I can jump to the 1990s, which was indeed an important decade during which the current formation of the field of study, Global Studies, did emerge, and Brazil was an important part of this transition.  In 1992, Rio de Janeiro hosted the first of a set of major, historically significant United Nations summits.  Eco-Rio, or the International Earth Summit was historically significant for many reasons. It brought together Indigenous activists from across Brazil and around the world and united environmental and ecology activists to together identify the planetary priority and emergency of what would come to be called climate change, mass extinction, and the interlinked crises of Indigenous genocide and biome destruction.  Very significantly, the 1992 Eco-Rio summit here in Rio established “global civil society” as the key protagonists and public for the event – displacing to some extent nation-state representatives and ministers.  For the first time, “global” and “planetary” rather than “international” began to circulate as the subject and object of collective governance and knowledge production.  Civil society, communities, NGO’s and social movements became constituents of a global public, autonomous from and embodying global citizenship, leveraging their voice and knowledge to influence national and international officials.  In Rio de Janeiro at this historic United Nations summit in 1992 the “global” and the identification of civil society and local communities as the protagonists of the global became established as a unit of history and of large-scale solidarity and governance. 

This model for the global then began to spread and become more visible and effective. In the United Nations summit on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, gender activists, feminist social movements, religious community groups, and public health leaders from around the world came together to confront nation-state governments and innovate in terms of women’s human rights, LGBTQ+ policies, and health access innovation.  This trend continued as the “global” and its social-community-public constituents came to populate international social forums and summits on human rights (Vienna), women’s rights (Beijing), housing (Nairobi), anti-racism (Durban, South Africa) and through many Global Social Forums in Porto Alegre, Brazil which proliferated around the world.  In this context, the field of Global Studies emerged in its official, contemporary form, with the first Centers and Programs of undergraduate and graduate education emerging in the 1990s in India, Japan, Thailand, Germany, Canada, the United States, Egypt, and South Africa. These new programs were often informed by the Bandung vision of the 1950s and energized by the global civil-society agendas of the 1990s social forums and UN conferences.  Also in the late 1990s, a series of massive social movements against the World Bank and IMF generated a demand for an “alternative globalization” that was pro-environment and pro-social justice, and for a form of education that could help us imagine that “alternative world is possible.”   

Brazil, and Rio de Janeiro, which was in fact the origin point for this new historical arc of “global” ordering that centered global civil society, has every condition and a thriving set of academic and citizen communities that are perfect for the support of this kind of interdisciplinary, publicly engaged field of study.  In the last two decades interdisciplinary research centers and programs (undergrad and graduate) have been very active in Brazil. New universities have been founded that focus on pan-Latin American research and solidarity, and on African unity with Brazil.  Centers for Middle Eastern Studies and Afro-diaspora focused Anthropology clusters at UFF and transdisciplinary International Relations programs at IFCS/UFRJ, and the BRICS Center at PUC.  In the 1990s and 2000s, Candido Mendes University here in Rio de Janeiro ran the fantastically innovative and Bandungian Afro-Asiatic Center, the Center for Afro-Brazilian Studies, where I had the honor to work with Dr. Osmundo Pinho, and the counterhegemonic American Studies Center. Here at UERJ, I have benefited from the enriching interdisciplinary pioneers of CLAM (Centro Latino-Americano em Sexualidade e Direitos Humanos) with a focus on gender/sexuality justice around the world as well as hemispherically, the Instituto de Medicina Social with a global visibility around planetary and community struggles around health, pandemics, urbanism, and violence, and the Black Studies program here at UERJ.

This all has led our group of professors to have confidence to together launch this vision of Global Studies in Brazil and a Núcleo or Center here at UERJ and or in association with other innovative universities here in the Rio de Janeiro area as well as in partnership with our dear colleagues in Bahia and other innovative sites. Welcome to the start of a new history of interdisciplinary research, teaching and public engagement! Thank you so much for believing in this mission and joining us in this conversation and transformation!

Now I’d like to thank some of the absolutely amazing people that have provided their vision, passion, hard work, and intellectual investment in the preparation of this transformative minicurso:

Prof. Maria Celi Scalon

Prof. Ronaldo Oliveira de Castro

Prof. Vinicius Ferreira

Prof. Ana Paula da Silva

Prof. Maira Covre

Prof. Fernando Brancoli

Prof. Beatriz Bissio

Todos que ajudaram na organização das mesas e paneis

Secretaria do ICS/UERJ

Livraria EdUERJ

Editora UFRJ

The team that lead in the development and implementation of the research survey and study:

Celi Scalon, Manaíra Athayde, David Pohl, Travis Candeias

I would also like to thank Dean Charlie Hale and Associate Dean Bishnupriya Ghosh for their huge efforts and unwavering support at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

And most of all I would like to thank Dr. Manaíra Athayde for her heroic and tireless efforts and limitless brilliance in leading in the vision for this minicurso, managing the travel and logistics, and also shaping and leading the intellectual mission of this conference and the conversation among the panelists and student monitors. I cannot exaggerate in my gratitude to Dr. Manaíra and I would like you to share in my thanking her.  

Also I would like to thank again Prof. Vinicius Ferreira who has been tireless in working with Manaíra and me and all of our wonderful colleagues and staff at UERJ to make this a success.

Very importantly, I would like to thank Prof. Loreiro and the Fulbright Commission in Brazil for the honor of serving as a Fulbright honoree this year in Brazil.  I am so proud of the mission of the Fulbright community in Brazil and the United States and hope that this minicurso comes to embody the mission of educational exchange, mutual understanding, research cooperation, and citizen collaboration between countries that the educational history of Fulbright so marvelously represents.

And finally I would like to thank all of you, the more than 100 matriculated students and forty participating professors from twenty universities around the world.  This minicurso is yours and I am moved and emotional as I pass the future of Global Studies into your hands. Congratulations!