September/October 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 7

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President Fernando Henrique Cardoso Is Awarded the Kluge Prize

Arielle Baran, ASA Summer Intern

kluge prize

ASA Executive Officer Sally T Hillsman, Henrique Fernando Cardoso, and ASA Intern Arielle Baran

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was a sociology doctoral student at the University of Sao Paulo long before he was elected to two terms as the President of Brazil. His list of inspiring vocational and life accomplishments as both an academic and politician is long and impressive, to say the least.

Adding to his decades-long list of outstanding work, Cardoso was honored in July with the Library of Congress Kluge Prize for his many humanitarian achievements and contributions to the social sciences. The Kluge Prize, established by Library of Congress benefactor John W. Kluge, acknowledges lifetime work in the social sciences, humanities, and other disciplines not recognized by the Nobel Prize.

As Cardoso stood in front of colleagues and friends to accept the million-dollar award and deliver his aptly titled speech, “Reason and Emotion,” he asked, “How did a sociology professor born in Rio de Janeiro, into an impoverished and overwhelmingly illiterate country in the grip of a Great Depression, come to stand before you tonight in these hallowed halls of the United States Congress?”

Some History

Here is the account of Cardoso’s life that this modest article will allow.

Born into a traditional Brazilian family, Cardoso earned his first teaching positions as assistant professor of Economic History and of Sociology at 21 years old. He spent his early career studying the teachings of Marx, Tocqueville, Weber, Mannheim, and Durkheim, among other great thinkers. This scholarship laid the foundation for his later analysis of Brazil’s race relations, poverty, economic policies, health care system, education, and global development—a concept he anticipated many years before it was formally termed globalization. Cardoso went on to lecture in Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English-speaking universities around the world.

During a period of repression in the 1960s, Cardoso was exiled from Brazil and moved with his family to work in Santiago, Chile. Later returning to Brazil, he began his political career with his election to Brazil’s Federal Senate. He then became Minister of External Relations and later rose to serve as Brazil’s Minister of Finance. From 1995 to 2003, Cardoso was elected to two consecutive terms as President of Brazil.

As President, Cardoso faced decades of economic, political, social, and health-related challenges. In the mid 1990s, just as Brazil was returning to democracy, the country suffered political instability, a poor economy, failed currencies, and growing inequality.

“If there was ever a situation that demanded the skills of a sociologist, it may have been the chaos that confronted Brazil in the early and mid 1990s,” Cardoso said.

Using his background in sociology as a tool for fruitful leadership, Cardoso helped bring his country out of its dictatorship and period of inflation (which fell from above 2,500 percent in 1993 to just 5 percent by 1995) and is largely credited for Brazil’s status as the world’s sixth largest economy, current low HIV/AIDS rates, increased school attendance, and political consensus in policy making.

The Author’s Personal Reflection

Listening to Cardoso’s speech, it struck me how much positive change there could be in the world if more sociologists studied economics and political science and if more politicians and economists studied sociology.

Cardoso referred to sociology as a “human” or “moral” science. He emphasized its essential role in effective, positive leadership. As a student of sociology, listening to Cardoso’s speech echo through the walls in the Library of Congress auditorium, I could not help but feel inspired by the impact sociology has had on not only Cardoso but the people of Brazil.

Cardoso explained his work as a politician and academic in Brazil by saying: “The exercise of politics required an ability to clearly diagnose Brazil’s problems, to understand the structures that were available to affect change…This was the work of a sociologist…the academic and the politician—reason and emotion—they were not only complementary, they were both essential.”

The Kluge Prize honors people who are able to sort through the complicated dimensions of scholarship and life to make positive change and bring progress to the social sciences. I could not think of a more deserving person to receive this award and was honored to learn about Cardoso’s life and hear him share his thoughtful, wise words.

I want to conclude this article in the same way that Cardoso concluded his Kluge Prize speech, with his inspiring warning that “…time is passing, and soon nothing will be left to judge us but history.”

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