Avant-garde sociologist

Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz is remembered for her capacity to reflect on little-known aspects of the country, such as messianic movements

Queiroz dedicated her life to teaching and research

School of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Humanities / USP

A courageous woman with an unusual perspective on national issues and an ability to broaden horizons. This is the description of sociologist Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz, professor emeritus at the School of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Humanities at the University of São Paulo (FFLCH-USP), who died on December 29 at 100 years of age. She was considered, in her own words, a “disobedient girl” for her decision to enroll at FFLCH-USP from where she graduated in humanities (1949) and did her master’s in sociology (1951). In 1959, at École Pratique des Hautes Etudes VI Section in Paris, under the direction of French sociologist Roger Bastide (1898–1974) and before a jury comprised of Belgian anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009) and French jurist and sociologist Gabriel Le Bras (1891–1970), she defended her doctoral thesis titled “La guerre sainte au Brésil: Le movement messianique du Contestado.”

She studied hot topics, remembers sociologist José de Souza Martins, also professor emeritus at FFLCH-USP: the caipira and the sertanejo, popular religion, top-down politics, messianic movements. “She was the one who most understood the sociological creativity of Bastide, who taught young students at the School of Philosophy of USP to see and interpret Brazil with anthropologically Brazilian eyes, to see what we are, and not what we are not and think we are,” he summarizes. She revealed new possibilities. “One of her principles was to emphasize the importance of qualitative studies. She brought together, as material for research and analysis, interviews, life stories, Brazilian literature—including novels,” recalls sociologist Eva Alterman Blay, her colleague at FFLCH-USP. Together the two women participated in the founding of the Center for Rural and Urban Studies (CERU). “In 1963, in my parents’ home, we rewrote the statute of the center for rural studies, which later included ‘urban studies,’” she says. As a visiting professor, Queiroz taught in Belgium, France, Canada, and Senegal. Recognized internationally, she had various studies published in Brazil, France, Italy, Colombia, and Mexico—one of them was translated into English by British historian Eric Hobsbawm (1917–2012). She supervised dozens of students both in Brazil and abroad. She was demanding and diligent about writing. “Maria Isaura had style. When she took a text to read, she made notes in the margins: ‘This is obscure,’ ‘I don’t understand what you want to say,’” remembers Blay. Throughout her life, she gave repeated demonstrations of political coherence, ethics, and integrity, highlights Martins. During the military dictatorship (1964–1985), she took action to free political prisoners and block police access to her building at USP, which was located on Maria Antônia street and at that time housed the school of philosophy.

She did not have any children. She dedicated her life to teaching and to research. “The time I spent and the experiences I enjoyed at USP were what captivated me most in my life,” she admitted during the celebration of her 80th birthday. Selected as scientist of the year in 1997, Queiroz received the Almirante Álvaro Alberto Award for Science and Technology from the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). “It was as if she had built a polyhedron and each person took an angle,” observes Blay. “Anthropologists, historians, sociologists, journalists, from various regions of the country and the world, each one represents an angle of the research of Queiroz that was important for her work.”