A farewell ceremony

Ruth Cardoso put into practice the ideas she developed as a respected anthropologist and researcher at USP

ARQUIVO ABR - AGÊNCIA BRASILChronological proximity usually sets periods, facts and people somewhat aside, especially when politics is involved. It is perhaps only after some time that the role of the former first lady, Ruth Cardoso, who passed away in the last week of June at the age of 77, can be properly measured,and for a simple reason: historically, only two wives of Brazilian presidents have distinguished themselves and gone beyond the role of accompanying spouses. And both in the same field: social policy, which some people mistake for mere philanthropy. Before Ruth Cardoso, there was only Darcy Vargas (1895-1968), wife of Getúlio Vargas (1882-1954), who created the Brazilian Social Welfare Legion (Legião Brasileira de Assistência), known as LBA in 1942. This became extinct, in 1995, under the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, when Ruth founded Solidary Community (Comunidade Solidária), now called Comunitas, an NGO focused on social welfare programs and volunteer work.

However, Ruth stood out relative to her predecessor because of her sound intellectual training and academic integrity, which provided her with all the theoretical foundations 6required to develop social welfare programs linked to the principles she had always advocated, in particular during the military dictatorship, when universities were surrounded by guns and armor-plated vehicles. To understand the challenge that she embraced as a militant first lady, one must first highlight her committed academic life. After her husband became president, according to some, Ruth Cardoso positioned herself as the frank and progressive side of the government and acted as an influential advisor. She even manifested herself politically and controversially when she stated that senator Antonio Carlos Magalhães was the bad side of the PFL (Liberal Front Party).

A self-confessed feminist who was pro-abortion, which she considered a woman’s choice, she loved cooking and protected her right to privacy. At the University of São Paulo (USP), she both developed and oversaw research studies, having also published books of a social and anthropological nature. She had a PhD from the School of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences. She taught and  also did research  in many institutions of higher education in several countries: Chile, France and the United States. In public life, she presided over the Advisory Council of the Interamerican Development Bank (BID) for Women and Development, and was a member of the board of the International Labor Organization (ILO) for the Social Dimensions of Globalization.

It was at USP that she met Fernando Henrique; having joined up in 1953, the two of them became a highly active couple of professors. Her relations with USP became stronger when she became a member of the Human Resources staff in 1952. She completed her master’s degree there in 1959, and her doctorate in 1972, both in anthropology. Her post-doctoral studies were conducted at Columbia University. She is considered one of the pioneering Brazilian academics to realize the need to embrace social movements centered on ethnic and racial diversity, sexual and economic orientation, in the 1970s. If the university, which had  Marxist inclinations, did not regard such areas as objects of study, Ruth, on the other hand, advocated that they were the “new social movements” and realized that they were the early indicators of a participative society. In 1978, she published Sociedade e poder: representações dos favelados de São Paulo [Society and power: representations of the São Paulo shantytown dwellers], which became a landmark study of power structures in large cities. During her time in exile, following the 1964 coup, she accompanied her husband to Chile, where she taught at Flacso. Upon returning to Brazil, they founded, together, the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento), known as CEBRAP, which was important for the country’s research into social issues.

Ruth Cardoso was part of a group of noteworthy intellectuals. In the late 1950’s she was part of the team that organized a systematic study of The Capital and of other seminal works connected with contemporary capitalism. Inspired by José Arthur Giannotti, she joined what would become one of the main segments of the Brazilian intelligentsia. Her colleagues in future struggles included: economists Paul Singer and Sebastião Advíncula da Cunha, sociologists Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juarez Brandão Lopes and Octávio Ianni, and historian Fernando Novaes, as well as students Bento Prado, Francisco Weffort, Michael Löwy, Gabriel Bolaffi and Roberto Schwarz, who held “apprentice” status.

All of them would eventually become opinion leaders in university circles, and they sought not only to properly understand capitalist dynamics, but above all to observe it within the specific context of Brazilian reality. Thus, a discussion was initiated regarding the materialism that inaugurated a reflection on the methods and specific analyses of particular realities, which did not center on Marx, but rather, encompassed authors whose thoughts were close to those of Marx’s works, or who complemented the latter.

This was the spirit with which many of these intellectuals from Ruth Cardoso’s group came together in connection with another even more important project, and one that was the fruit of years of study, putting into practice what had been learnt in discussions with Gianotti. Because of the compulsory university leave forced upon some of the group’s members, in early 1969, under the leadership of Fernando Henrique and Giannotti, this group of intellectuals founded Cebrap, with the intent of providing continuity to the research tradition they were affiliated to. The foundation of Cebrap aimed, above all, at preserving the intellectual environment and the research tradition that had been consolidated at the School of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters at the University of São Paulo, in particular after the assimilation of Marxism into its research agenda. The group had to learn to coexist with a different reality, one that demanded that they develop an enormous capacity to renovate their practices and their conceptual repertoire, forcing them to establish new institutional relations and to study themes not covered by their traditional research agenda. The seeds of the future had been sown.

Still, in spite of her importance within Brazil’s intellectual scene, alongside her peers, those who were familiar with her on a day-to-day basis also stress her dignity and integrity of character, the simplicity in how she dealt with people, her social sensitivity and her deep knowledge of Brazilian reality, as was observed by Celso Lafer, FAPESP’s chairman and  former foreign minister of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration. Within the professional area, he recalls Ruth’s innovative example of using knowledge as a means for social action and “the awareness of the role of social movements as an essential element for a proper understanding of the reality of contemporary society that were part of the career and life of the anthropologist”. Regarding FAPESP, Ruth had research ties to it, besides being its scientific advisor, as part of the traditional partnership between the academic community and this research support institution.

Lafer also recalls that, as an academic, Ruth Cardoso’s paths led her from anthropology to political science, where she faced fundamental themes which, until then, were not very common in the research conducted in our country, such as civil society and its modus operandi in non-governmental organizations and gender demands. “She focused more on the environment of civil society, on its relations with the State, than on the internal environment of the State itself. And an awareness of the role of social movements is an essential element for one to properly understand the reality of contemporary society”.

“Professor Ruth Cardoso was a fundamental scientist in the development of anthropology in Brazil”, stresses FAPESP’s scientific director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz. “She uncovered new research subjects and stood out in the world of academic debate for her shrewd, rigorous and original analyses. She educated several generations of students and her work had a huge impact upon Brazilian universities. Besides her scientific and teaching activities, she played a key role in Brazilian political life, always producing analyses that were both considered and incisive, based on her vast knowledge of the Brazilian reality.”

Eunice R. Durham, a professor emerita of FFLCH/USP and the researcher responsible for the educational area of the Center for Public Policy Research (Núcleo de Pesquisa de Políticas Públicas – NUPPs/USP), states that Ruth Cardoso’s academic and scientific journey was characterized by certain qualities that are only “rarely” found in one person. “First, the breadth and depth of her theoretical education, which included sociology, political science and philosophy, in addition to anthropology”. She adds that this afforded Ruth Cardoso a very broad and critical approach to the social problems that she researched: Japanese immigration, the make-up and characteristics of the impoverished outskirts of  major cities and  the inner-state areas, and urban social movements. “Regarding these three, she was a pioneer who found new paths for one to understand these complex social processes”.

Secondly, one must highlight her role as a teacher. “She was always indefatigably dedicated to teaching and to undergraduate studies”. In the post-graduate area, she set up research groups, previously rare in the social sciences in Brazil, and trained an entire generation of anthropologists at USP. For Eunice, Ruth never exempted herself from political postures in the defense of democracy and  the participation of the popular classes; she was never sectarian nor did she allow her political militancy to affect her critical view of Brazilian problems. “It is not enough, however, to point out her intellectual qualities. It was her personal qualities, permeated by  deep humanity, her modesty, her integrity, her respect for people, regardless of their ethnicity or social class, her dedication and generous guidance of the people who worked with her that gave rise to the loyalty and admiration of her colleagues and followers. As a public figure, she was an example, now sorely missed, of absolute honesty and dignity”.

Ruth Cardoso, highlights José Álvaro Moisés, director of NUPPs/USP, was a source of inspiration for all of her students in the social sciences course, and for all her colleagues in the Departments of Anthropology and Political Science at USP. “Her pioneering research works, as well as her contribution to the analysis of social movements, formed the starting point for countless theses and studies at the university”. Above all, he adds, “she conducted her students and her colleagues along the path of rigorous scientific research.Ruth was an important ally of the former NUPES and the inspirer of the current NUPPs. We lost a person who was an important reference for our work and the country is now deprived of an extraordinary public figure who was so skilled in combining her knowledge with service to her country, especially to those who are socially excluded.”

A retired senior professor from the Department of Sociology of the USP School of Philosophy, José de Souza Martins was an anthropology student of Ruth Cardoso and a sociology student of Fernando Henrique Cardoso as a social sciences undergraduate at USP, 47 years ago. He recalls that they resumed contact when the couple returned from their exile. He welcomed her as a colleague at the School of Philosophy. “We maintained frequent contact over the last few years, at seminars and conferences. Ruth was one of the first anthropologists to focus on urban anthropology and on the anthropology of complex societies. I would like to highlight her contribution to the field of anthropology,  what she called the new social movements”.

With her husband occupying the post of President, stresses Martins, she created the Solidary Community (Comunidade Solidária), “a program for overcoming assistant patronage”. In the post-power phase, she created Comunitas, an organization that works with the underprivileged population. “Ruth was a professor who was concerned with the theoretical perfection of lectures and of anthropological research. She was an innovator when it came to the diversity of subjects that she covered in her scientific life”. “She was also an innovator regarding the themes and perspectives of academic guidance”. “She never confused political militancy with scientific work and teaching, although she was actually a militant in the cause of re-democratization, an area in which she was a leading thinker.”

The relations between Ruth and Elza Salvatori Berquó, Cebrap coordinator, did not start at the university, were Elza was forced to retire by the AI-5 law, as she herself recalls. “We became close during the discussions that led to the establishment of Cebrap, 39 years ago. We were together at the discussions in which aspects of the center’s creation were considered”. Ever since, they maintained a strong relationship. “I remember her as a person who was always alert and advocating in favor of women, not only  their sexual freedom, but also where their body, equal rights and professional opportunities were concerned. She wanted them to have a voice at several levels, and the same salaries and positions, not to speak of reproductive rights. She took part in many activities aimed at this”.

For Elza, Ruth, within academia and the Brazilian intellectual milieu, was an outstanding figure thanks to her invariably constructive and democratic dialogue, her alertness and her pluralistic views as a colleague at this institution. “With great clarity, she lived ahead of her times. When we were facing the dictatorship, there was little room for debates and reflections; many intellectuals approached Cebrap and she was a very important person within this context. I admired her mainly for the simple but commanding way in which she advocated her ideas, positions and principles.”

Maria Filomena Gregori, a professor of Anthropology at Unicamp, was close to Ruth for the last 27 years and laments having lost her advisor for her next research study, something that they had already agreed upon. “I began working with her in 1981, when I graduated from Unicamp and took part in the selection for master’s degree students, with which she was involved”. Ruth became her supervisor in a study on violence against women, centered on SOS Mulher (SOS Woman), which led to the book Cenas e queixas – estudo sobre mulheres, relações violentas e práticas violentas (Scenes and complaints – a study on women, violent relationships and violent practices), from the Editora Paz & Terra publishing house, 1992. In 1986, Maria Filomena joined a Cebrap grant program and become one of that organization’s researchers. In 1991, she began her doctorate in anthropology, again under the direction of Ruth Cardoso. “We worked together systematically until 1994, when she moved to Brasilia”.

From all this contact, she retains the memory of an absolutely peerless professor and supervisor, according to her description. “I got e-mails from colleagues saying how strongly she had impressed all of them. It’s a huge list of people who were guided by her and who enjoyed successful academic lives”. The Unicamp professor mentions Gilberto Velho, Marisa Correia, Tereza Caldeira, Ana Maria Doimo and Otavio Frias Filho, as well as people from younger generations, such as Simone Coelho, Ana Cristina Martes, Helena Sampaio and Cátia Ida da Silva. “Being deeply focused where the text was concerned, she advocated that the students under her guidance should learn empirical research and how to produce empirical data. She also insisted strongly on the definition of the subject of study and the tools for producing the study”.

All the people who worked with her, says Maria Filomena, developed into good field researchers thanks to her efforts. “On the other hand, she allowed you a huge amount of freedom; she encouraged people to come up with interesting themes that went against what was conventional.” She remembers that Ruth Cardoso produced an important ethnography of the shantytowns, based on a more direct observation of their ins and outs and their characteristics. In these studies, she showed her sensitivity to the types of organization that appeared in the city outskirts. In the 1980’s she was also firm in her tutoring work, but nevertheless gave students a lot of freedom, even in regard to their choice of authors. “She wanted us to think and to advocate our own points of view and to convince her. She preferred controversy to anything considered conventional or predominant”.

For most of her life, Ruth Cardoso was known as an anthropologist and a teacher, rather than as the wife of the sociologist and later senator and president of the Republic, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. She shone with her own light, far beyond the significant role she played as first lady.

Sweetness and determination
José Arthur Giannotti

Ruth Cardoso chose to live in clarity, between the limelight of political life and  evenings of domestic routine. Only within this space could she combine the determination of her will and the kindness of her gestures. As a student, many young men wanted to date the pretty, studious girl from Araraquara, but it was Fernando Henrique who won the contest. They were married very early, but even though they spent almost 60 years together, neither lost the taste for their own identities. To the contrary, each of them built an individual path, and always a fairly broad one, so that the other might find in it an abode with room for differences, dialogue and a safe haven.

At the very start of Fernando Henrique’s public career, when he received his first Légion d’Honneur decoration from the French government, when I greeted the couple, she announced, with her remarkable sense of humor: “Now don’t you come and tell me that behind a great man there’s always a great woman.” The idea was clear: “I’m happy and supportive, but I won’t give up my own path.” And thus, these two enriched each other mutually.