ISA Past Presidents

Fernando Henrique Cardoso

President 1982-86

1931 | -

Nationality Brazilian



  • 1952  BA, Universidade de São Paulo.
  • 1953  MA, Universidade de São Paulo.
  • 1962  PhD, Universidade de São Paulo (Thesis title ‘Formação e desintegração da sociedade de castas: o negro na ordem escravocrata do Rio Grande do Sul’; Supervisor, Florestan Fernandes.)

Posts held

  • 1953 -1961 teaching assistant, Universidade de Sao Pãulo.
  • 1961-1964 Professor of sociology, Universidade de Sao Pãulo; Director of the Centro de Sociología Industrial y del Trabajo (CESIT).
  • 1962-1963 Postdoctoral studies in Université de Paris.
  • 1964  [Exile to Chile.]
  • 1964-1967 Fellow, Instituto Latinoamericano de Planificación Económica y Social (ILPES)[1] and professor of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), Santiago de Chile.
  • 1968-1969 Professor of Political Science, Universidade de Sao Pãulo. One of the founders of the Centro Brasileño de Análisis y Planificación (CEBRAP).

ISA participation, main roles

  • 1974, Chairman, Working Group 7, ‘Industrial leadership, entrepreneurship and economic development’, World Congress, Toronto.
  • 1978-98  Chair, Past Chair, RC 02, Economy and Society.
  • 1978-82 Vice-President.[2]
  • 1982-86  President.

Participation in other settings

  • 1980-1982  President of CEBRAP.
  • 1983-1989  Senator for São Paulo, twice reelected.
  • 1992-1994  Foreign/Finance Minister of Brazil.
  • 1995-2003  President of Brazil.

Intellectual and ISA career

Cardoso came from a prosperous family with a military tradition, but his father became a lawyer when he retired from the army, and a deputy (not on the right wing). In Cardoso’s student years, much of the teaching on his social science degree was by French academics, so that at an early stage he was familiar with French work; among those who taught him was Roger Bastide, and a little later Alain Touraine spent a lot of time in Chile and Brazil and became a friend. While still a student he took part for 3 years in a UNESCO-funded project on the position of Negroes [3], directed in Brazil by Roger Bastide and Florestán Fernández, collecting data on a large scale (without really knowing how to analyse it); visiting them in slums, and seeing the poverty and prejudice, radicalised him. A book on this was published jointly with Ianni, and his doctoral dissertation was also based on it.

Another formative activity was participation in a cross-disciplinary Marx Study Group, which undertook what he describes as extremely detailed and pedantic study of Marx’s and other texts; this had nothing to do with support of the Communist Party (UN interview: 5-7). Like many others, he broke relations with the communists after the 1956 invasion of Hungary.

In the early 60s Cardoso and colleagues organised a Centre for Industrial and Labour Sociology (CESIT), aided by Friedmann’s group; Touraine helped in this. They carried out a project which interviewed industrialists all over the country. This resulted in Empresàrio Industrial e Desenvolvimento Econômico [Industrial Entrepreneur and Economic Development] (1964), which was concerned with the lack of progress in Brazil’s development; reasons for that were seen as related to specifically Brazilian, or perhaps Latin American, circumstances.

After a while there Cardoso spent a year in Paris, with a fellowship at the Laboratory of Industrial Sociology, and worked with Touraine, Crozier and Aron.  At the end of 1963 he returned to Brazil, and had academic plans there, but in April 1964 there was a military coup and he had to escape. He went to Santiago in Chile, and for 3 years[4] worked at a United Nations body, ILPES (Latin American Institute for Social and Economic Planning); there he met interesting colleagues from all over Latin America, and in interaction with economists he made the unit more social and empirical and came to define himself more as a sociologist, rather than an anthropologist or historian (Kahl 1988: 136).

He embarked on a comparative study of entrepreneurs in Argentina and Brazil, and also worked with colleague Enzo Faletto on a general theory of dependency, which responded to the difficulty existing sociological and economic theories had in explaining developments in Latin America.[5] After circulating for some time in manuscript, their work was published in 1969 as Dependencia y Desarrollo en America Latina [Dependency and Development in Latin America], and had a great impact.  Beigel (2010: 191) formulates the sociological contribution of dependency theory as being ‘to offer a new definition of underdevelopment combining the analysis of society with economy and politics, in specific historical situations.’  Cardoso’s name has become particularly associated with dependency theory, but others at ILPES had been working in related fields.  Many others took up these ideas and developed them, not always as Cardoso preferred (Cardoso 1977).

In 1968 it was possible for Cardoso to return to São Paulo, and he won a professorship of political science with material from his study of entrepreneurs. At the end of that year, however, a right-wing government carried out a purge of academics and he lost the job. Luckily he and other colleagues were allowed to survive by setting up a research and consultancy body (CEBRAP – Brazilian Centre for Analysis and Planning), partly supported by Ford Foundation funding.

Kahl (1988: 185-6) suggests that the sociological impact of Cardoso’s work was because it showed a way of dealing with the problem of the inapplicability of existing theories such as functionalism, Marxism and modernization theory to Latin American conditions, but without giving up on finding an approach with some generality. Goertzel (1999: 178, 182), writing more than 20 years later (in a book approved by its subject), suggests that Cardoso’s success: 
‘...has come not because he has had a better theory but because he has always kept one question at the center of his thinking: What will happen if society selects one course of action over another? To answer this question, he has focused on the sociology of the historical conjuncture rather than on general theory… he does not spend his time testing or developing theories; he does not share the pure scientist’s interest in formulating abstract propositions that can be subjected to statistical tests… Cardoso’s goal is to understand the course of history and to do what he can to steer it in a positive direction.’ Thus theories are heuristic tools to generate ideas rather than propositions to be tested, and timeliness in writing is more important to him than exhaustive treatment of the topic area.  Perhaps the difference of emphasis in these two accounts reflects change over time in the emphases of their subject?

In the‘70s and early ‘80s, Cardoso held a number of distinguished visiting professorships in Stanford, Cambridge, Paris, and Berkeley. This was the period when he was most active in the ISA, chairing RC 02. He was, thus, well connected and widely known among sociologists in the ISA, as well as established as a leading thinker in Latin American social science. By then, however, his political career was starting to take over from his sociological career, insofar as the two can be distinguished. By the time he became president of ISA, Cardoso was already active in Brazilian politics; he had been involved in the formation of a new political party, and had stood for office in 1978 and, though defeated, the publicity made him better known to the general public.

Clearly there were many things besides ISA and academic sociology on his mind. In his autobiography (2006) the ISA is mentioned only as the origin of interesting trips to Poland and the USSR, and he told Goertzel (1999: 75) that ‘he was feeling distant from academic sociology at the time, and was unsure what to tell the sociologists’. However, the archives show that those at the centre regarded him as a good president, with useful political skills, although he often exercised his functions at a distance.

In what we treat as his ‘presidential address’ to the 1986 World Congress (Cardoso 1987), though it may not quite have been intended as such, he reviewed the recent history of theories of social change, and concluded that what was required, but had not yet been provided, was different models for different historical circumstances, and the present world situation created new challenges. It is clear that the kinds of change he has in mind are strongly related to the idea of ‘development’ as the destination of change, and he ends by connecting this to the political goal of the abolition of poverty, so that although the article is short and the argument not developed very far one can see how it follows from his general approach and interests.

References, other sources of information, related work

  • Beigel, Fernanda (2010)  ‘Dependency analysis: the creation of new social theory in Latin America’, pp. 189-200 in ed. Sujata Patel, The ISA Handbook of Diverse Sociological Traditions.
  • Cardoso, Fernando H. (1977)  ‘The consumption of dependency theory in the United States’,  Latin American Research Review, 12, 3: 7-24.
  • Cardoso, Fernando H. (1987)  ‘Problems of social change, again?’, International Sociology 2: 177-187.
  • Cardoso, Fernando H. (2006)  The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir Connell, Raewyn (2007)  ‘Dependency, autonomy and culture’, pp. 140-163 in Connell, Southern Theory.
  • Goertzel, Ted George (1999)  Fernando Henrique Cardoso: Reinventing Democracy in Brazil.
  • Kahl, Joseph A. (1988)  Three Latin American Sociologists: Gino Germani, Pablo Gonzales Casanova and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. (2nd edition; the first edition was in 1976, so the discussion of Cardoso’s work stops at a corresponding date.).
  • Porto, Maria Stela Grossi and Tom Dwyer (2010)  ‘Development, dictatorship and re- democratization – trajectories of Brazilian sociology’, pp. 201-211 in ed. S. Patel, The ISA Handbook of Diverse Sociological Traditions.
  • United Nations Intellectual History Project  The Complete Oral History Transcripts from UN Voices [CD]: Cardoso interview, 19 July 2002.

XI World Congress of Sociology, New Delhi, India, 1986

Welcome address
Opening speech

Presidential address
‘Problems of social change, again?’, International Sociology 2: 177-187, 1987.

XIV ISA World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, Canada, July 1998 (in Spanish)

Welcome address

[1]  This was a body within the UN sphere, responsible for providing courses.

[2]  Alain Touraine chaired the Nominating Committee for 1978. It wanted to nominate Cardoso for President, but could not contact him to get his consent – but still nominated him for Vice President. [Minutes of Council, 19th Aug. 1978].

[3]  This was initiated by Alfred Métraux, head of the Racial Studies Division-of UNESCO.

[4]  But in the winter of 1967-8 he went to France to teach at Nanterre, where Touraine was professor, and so experienced the student protest; Daniel Cohn-Bendit was in his class. ‘It was an opportunity to taste the flavor of great moments of social transformation. And I learned practical sociological lessons: “apathetic” societies can become quickly mobilised.’ (Goertzel 1999: 45).

[5]  In his UN interview, Cardoso repeatedly remarks on the localism of Brazilian intellectual life, except for its tendency to identify with Europe rather than with other countries in Latin America. But the group who met in Santiago were from many countries, and the concept of ‘Latin America’ came to have more meaning for them; a network was formed there which persisted. (However in more recent times, he said, the networks have been based on shared training in America.)