Imprimir Republish


Philosopher of uncertainties

Between cumbia dances and fanfares, Douglas Anfra endeavors to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and the everyday life of high school students

As a professor of philosophy, Anfra uses his musical experiences to his benefit in the classroom

Léo Ramos Chaves / Revista Pesquisa FAPESP

I was born in Jundiaí and I always liked music, but I never had the chance to learn any instruments as a child. I attended a technical college and had to start working at a young age. Between 1997 and 2000, I worked in the chemical industry. I was earning a good salary for a 19-year-old, but my life was exhausting. I was working shifts that varied between day and night. One day I had an accident on the job and burnt my leg, meaning I couldn’t work for the next few months. In Jundiaí, I had a friend who studied philosophy at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Marília, and I started to become interested in the subject.

After the accident, I decided to look for a different professional path. I saved the money I received when I left my job, took the entrance exam for the University of São Paulo (USP), and started studying philosophy. Then I went out and bought some musical instruments. As an undergraduate, I lived in a dorm with eight friends. As the months went by, the money I had saved ran out and I started working as a waiter and bartender to support myself. It was a crazy routine. I worked late and then I had to get up early the next morning to go to university. I felt out of place among my classmates, who spoke foreign languages like French and German and had a strong background in the humanities, something I didn’t have from technical school. So I started studying French and German, taking advantage of the courses offered by USP.

In 2005, the university advertised for an academic technician position, and I applied and was accepted. My job was to perform various administrative tasks for the Geography Department. At around that time I also became involved with the student movement. In 2009, I started a master’s degree in philosophy, with the possibility of receiving a fellowship from CAPES [the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education]. I had to choose between my job at USP and the fellowship. In the end I decided to resign. Even though it meant an uncertain future, I chose the master’s degree fellowship because I wanted to take my research career more seriously.

Under the guidance of philosophy historian Paulo Arantes, I studied the relationship between war and philosophy in the thinking of German philosopher Friedrich Engels [1820–1895]. In 2014, I started my PhD, also with a CAPES fellowship and with the same advisor. In philosophy, it is common for researchers to specialize in an author rather than a topic. I decided to take a risk and focused on one subject, analyzing the association between development, biological evolution, and progress through the worldview forged around German social democracy at the turn of the twentieth century. I thus studied the training, education, and leisure cycles offered to workers in Germany. My research was interdisciplinary, covering interpretations by philosophers, science historians, political scientists, pedagogues, and others, following my curiosity wherever it took me.

During this period, I was teaching ethics at the São Paulo School of Sociology and Politics Foundation (FESPSP). I defended my thesis in 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, and applied for a position as a substitute professor of philosophy at the Federal Institute of Education, Science, and Technology (IFSP), Suzano campus, where I am now.

Personal Archive / Camila GauditanoThe philosopher (in a black hat) in a procession with Cumbia Calavera, a group of Latin American musiciansPersonal Archive / Camila Gauditano

The institute has a better infrastructure than state schools. There is more time to prepare classes and students have pedagogical and psychological support, something that greatly enriches the teaching and learning process. This has allowed me to look for new strategies for teaching philosophy to high school students. I’ve been able to read textbooks on nontraditional philosophies and knowledge and contemporary thinkers, including African, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous authors. I use this repertoire in the classroom as a way of creating a bridge to traditional philosophers, who students often feel are more distant from their modern lives. Philosophy professors these days cannot escape unorthodox epistemology, but we must not reject the classical tradition. My experience has actually shown that this knowledge can help spark a student’s interest in orthodox thinkers, offering a basis for comparison that is closer to their reality.

My contract at IFSP ends at the end of 2023, and one path I’m thinking about taking is to get a job as a professor, but we are experiencing a moment of uncertainty in the field of philosophy. With reforms to secondary education, the subject is likely to only be taught in private schools. I’m currently doing a second degree in geography to broaden my professional horizons.

Ever since I was a child in Jundiaí, I’ve been into the hard rock scene, but I also like popular and classical music. I learned to play the trombone and tuba, and I’m learning to play the bass. During the pandemic, I also taught myself some luthier techniques and now I repair wind instruments. I’m a musician in three different bands: the Manada fanfare band, which plays pop music; the experimental group Fanfarra Clandestina; and Cumbia Calavera, a group of Latin American musicians who create instrumental reinterpretations of classic cumbia music, as well as playing our own compositions. Philosophy plays a part in these activities for me, for example when we organize meetings to agree on major group decisions. In these moments, my experience with the systematization of thought helps guide collective discussions. The work of philosopher Oswaldo Porchat [1933–2017], for example, greatly influenced me in this regard, helping me to place philosophy into contexts of everyday life. I’m even thinking about going a step further and doing a postdoctorate to study the relationship between music and philosophy. But I haven’t yet thought of a good way to turn this into a research project.

In my daily life, I move between worlds. Carnival, for example, is a way for groups of musicians to lead the streets in a state of anarchy. We bring people joy, but we the musicians take the work very seriously. We have to create our character, develop musical techniques, and practice in groups. There are people who are more informal about it all, but in my case, when I play the tuba, I always need to be focused on the group and I must not lose concentration. To play the instrument, I need time to inhale the air and sound the note before the other musicians. The tuba sets the tone and rhythm for the other instruments and it is a very heavy object. I have to be careful not to hit anyone in disorderly crowds. Despite the laid-back and chaotic image of street performances, the musicians have to concentrate hard to perform well. When I am teaching students, these experiences help a lot. After performing practically naked or dressed as an insect, playing the tuba for a big crowd, I can enter the classroom ready for any situation.