Jan Sowa: JU SPECTRESS Fellow in Sao Paulo

I spent 4 months at the Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (FFLCH) of the University of Sao Paulo in the frame of SPECTRESS program in 2015 and 2016. I received a very warm welcome from my hosts. Laura Izarra and Eda Nagayama were particularly helpful in arranging my stay and organizing my research and I’d like to thank them a lot for that.

I was impressed by the academic life and scientific activities at the USP. This university fully deserves its rank as the leading academic institution of Latin America. Apart from my research I took part in various seminars and gave guest lectures for students at FFLCH and USP’s School of Communication and Arts. The discussions were very inspiring and helped me to advance my own research agenda.

I found my Brazilian experience particularly interesting being a scholar from Central-Eastern Europe. Our region has got a different history than the Western Europe as well as a different structural position in the modern world-system (I’m using here the term coined by Immanuel Wallerstein and Fernand Braudel). It makes Central-Eastern Europe, paradoxically, closer in many respects to Latin America than to Western Europe: it’s a (semi)peripheral zone, marked by a colonial experience (expansions undertaken by Russia, Prussia and the Habsburg Empire in late 18th and 19th centuries), with traditional, family and religion oriented societies, strongly patriarchal with a deep modernization trauma. I was particularly inspired by the diagnosis of Brazilian troubled relations with modernity put forward by Roberto Schwartz in his seminal essay Misplaced Ideas. I’d like to thank Vinícius Domingos for bringing this text to my attention.

What made my stay at USP even more interesting was the possibility to get to know Sao Paulo and Brazil. Sao Paulo is truly amazing and unique. I had a chance before to live for some periods of time in several mega-cities and metropolises such as Paris, New York, Buenos Aires or Barcelona and visited many others while travelling, but Sao Paulo is an exceptional place. Its skyline and urban landscape is second to none in my personal opinion. I was impressed by how well Sao Paulo is organized and managed. Its subway system, for example, measures only 78 kilometers as opposed to 440 km in London, however it carries 4.6 million passengers every day, slightly more than London’s Tube. Sao Paulo, led by the charismatic mayor Fernando Haddad, has introduced many progressive policies. Hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes have been constructed in just several years. City Hall’s publications foster tolerance and openness to LGBT community.

I was equally impressed by Brazil as a country. I travelled extensively in South America before (in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Uruguay) and I did a field research in Argentine in 2008 and 2009. I found Brazil to be a world apart, a completely different and much more developed country, especially in its South. I’m aware of many shortcomings of the governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rouseff, however the social progress achieved in the last 15 years is outstanding: 30 million people have been elevated from extreme poverty and Brazil is out of world hunger map now. I keep my fingers crossed for further progressive reforms in much more difficult times that are set to loom over Brazil over the next couple of years.

Many people from USP and others, not associated with it, contributed to making the time I spent in Brazil both scientifically fruitful and personally enjoyable. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those not mentioned above (in alphabetical order): Gustavo Garcia, Euan Gibb, Lygia Gibb, Susana Lopez, Artur Matuck, Marcus Cesar Ricci Teshainer, Katia Rubio, Gabriele Saltore, Deusa Maria Souza-Pinheiro Passos, Gabriel Trettel Silva and Felipe Ziotti Narita.

Many thanks to Jennifer Edmond and Tomasz Bilczewski for coordinating the project in Dublin  and Kraków.

Jan Sowa (https://jagiellonian.academia.edu/JanSowa)

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About Jennifer Edmond

Dr Jennifer Edmond, is the Director of Strategic Projects in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. Trained as a scholar of German literature, Jennifer is mostly engaged professionally with the investigation of knowledge exchange and collaboration in Humanities research and in particular the impact of technology on these processes.
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