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“Those who kept glowing With tenacity, with loveliness, Ideas that today we all stand up for. (…) Beautiful dreamers, Undefiled brothers of light, Young, forever young, Dear old communists”

(Roberto Fernández Retamar)


Marina Cappello
Profesoras e investigadoras de la Facultad de Trabajo Social de la Universidad Nacional de La Plata (FTS-UNLP), Argentina


Carolina Mamblona
Profesoras e investigadoras de la Facultad de Trabajo Social de la Universidad Nacional de La Plata (FTS-UNLP), Argentina

José Paulo Netto, an indispensable author for Latin American Social Work.

José Paulo Netto’s political and academic trajectory is inseparable from various social and political events which took place not only in Brazil but also in Latin America in the last 40 years. These events allowed him to experience an intellectual and militant life. Therefore, he became a reference for our professional collective, developing a big and indispensable written production for social workers’ theoretical and political education.

José Paulo Netto

Netto graduated in Social Work (1969) and Literature (1974) at Juiz de Fora University, and possesses a Literary Theory Master’s degree at São Paulo University (1981) and a Social Work Doctor’s degree at Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP) (1990). He works as Social Work professor at Universidade Federal do Río de Janeiro (UFRJ) and at PUC (SP), both in graduate and postgraduate degrees. His trajectory also includes diverse Latin American countries, being postgraduate professor in Argentina, Honduras, and Uruguay. He defines himself as a “chalk worker”.

All over universities where he performed as professor, he developed groups for the studies and investigation of Marxist (1) tradition; sharing his intellectual trajectory with important and capable thinkers such as Carlos Nelson Coutinho and Leandro Konder. In Argentina, since 1995, through a Social Work Master’s degree at Universidad Nacional de la Plata, he shared an unmatched space of academic education, which was enriched with courses at other National Universities such as Universidad Nacional del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires (UNICEN), settled in Tandil, and Universidad del Comahue, settled in Neuquén. In 2010 he was recognized with Honoris Causa degree (UNICEN) (2), for the first time in Argentina.

He coordinated thesis in different Latin American countries and contributed through articles published in Argentinian editorials such as Humanitas (3) and Grupo Ecro’s magazines (4), in the 60’ and 70’. After this, he also collaborated with Latin American Library of Social Work which belonged to Cortez Editorial. Because of these experiences, he affirms: “... As an interlocutor related to Social Work, I was first known in Latin America, and then in Brazil (…)” (Praia Vermelha magazine v 20 Nº 2) Despite his great trajectory in Social Work, his detractors affirm that Netto is not a social worker and assert that his analyses are sociological, misapprehending that the author has a rigorous perspective of totality in his investigations, and that his concerns are far away from particularisms, seeking universal aspects, determinations, and mediations. This led people to accusing him of being an determinist.

As Freddy Esquivel Corella affirms (2001):

“He stands against sociologism and positivist scientificism, highlighting that knowledge about the complexes of complexes that form social reality claims indeed a systematical analysis but not a system, not a model and not a ‘methodological shape’ built from a simple ‘investigation of phenomena regularities or reiterations’. He also stands against every way of expression of irrationalism.”

Although his theories were criticized, it is difficult to tarnish an intellectual with such honesty who has always voiced his theoretical and political belonging, introducing himself to people as a “convinced Marxist”. He is a PCB (5) militant affected by communist trouble throughout the last and current century. A professor who has always encouraged not only critical and autonomous thought but also debates of ideas, which led to a pluralism, but not to an eclecticism. He also contributes with mediations to our professional collective, which allow us to investigate, intervene and transform reality.

Consequently, Paulo Netto has transcended the professional area by contributing to intellectual debate from Social Theory. He is a prolific translator and promoter of Marxists thinker’s oeuvres, especially translating G. Lukács to Portuguese. As Netto is, primarily, a thinker worried about the present, he is fully committed to different social struggles. His contributions to militants’ political education are still in force at Escuela Florestán Fernández, the headquarters of Movimiento Sin Tierra de Brasil, a catalyst and educative place for social and political movements of Latin America. Netto’s current contributions are insuperable, running diverse courses in Portugal and Brazil and writing to investigate and revalue anti-capitalist literature authors who were forgotten. (6)

Along with Marilda Lamamoto and other colleagues, he is a part of a generation that established the base of critical Social Work by highlighting the political dimension of this profession. They were part of the richest Social Work history, being protagonists of the reconceptualization movement. Early, in the 80’s, his writings were already part of the CELATS (7) heritage and pedagogical function, while South American dictatorships persecution imposed jail, exile and disappearance for revolutionary generations.

With their fundamental oeuvres both authors contributed to situate the origin of the profession as an historical consequence of monopolist capitalism, when it tried to incorporate demands which were social placed by the working class, in the context of a specialization in the socio-technique labour division. Thus, investigating the origins and manifestations of the “Social Questions” they overcame other positions which situated the profession as a continuity of philanthropy and charity.

Netto’s texts propound central and indispensable categories for our professional intervention. As he presents it in Monopolist Capitalism and Social Work, “syncretism constitutes the frame of the affirmation and development of Social Work as a profession, its organizational core and its action rules. It is expressed in every professional praxis manifestation and it is revealed in all professional agents’ manifestations. Syncretism was a constitutive Social Work principle” (Netto, 1992: 89)

Among other categories he highlights the importance of addressing the nature of the everyday world to face alienation in social relations, the dialectical critical method to research; understand the reality clearing methodologists debates in the profession; the relationship between Marxist tradition and social work under the constraints of a “contaminated approach”; and the fundamental elements of the neoliberal offensive and the crisis of socialism.

Paulo Netto refers to Gyòrgy Lukács as a “nonstop warrior” who has deeply inspired him. Thence, Netto resists and persists with conviction, without capitulations, looking for the always difficult ways of building emancipatory horizons which present an alternative to contemporary barbarism. We conclude, without hesitation, that José Paulo Netto is among those indispensable people to Social Work and to everyone who aim to change the status quo, those who Bertold Brecht called “indispensable”, because they are who struggle all their lives…

  1. See Investigators Centre “Marxist investigation and Studies Centre” (NEPEM-UFRJ), and NEAM “Marxist Studying and Deepening Studies Centre” (PUS-SP), initially with Evaldo Vieira and Dilsea Bonnetti.
  2. Superior Council ordinance number 1914 (10/28/2011)
  3. Humanitas Editorial, created by professors Aníbal Villaverde and Sela Sierra de Villaverde, started working in the 50’. It was initially dedicated to the publication of books related to the education and pedagogy area. He began his own editorial dedicated to Social Work in 1963, with a series of Social Work books under the supervision of Sela Sierra.
  4. “Hoy en el Trabajo Social” magazine, first called “Hoy en el Servicio Social” (Argentina), directed by ECRO group of Social Work Investigation and teaching, and published by ECRO editorial (Conceptual, Referential, and Operative Scheme), established, since 1965, as the diffusion organ of the rising “Reconceptualization Movement of Latin America Social Work” which, at the begging (until 1968 approximately) was almost synonym of “65’ Generation”.
  5. He joined Brazilian Communist Party in 1963, accomplishing diverse and significative practical and intellectual contributions.
  6. We suggest visiting Editorial Boitempo’s blog, where he writes a monthly column called “Biblioteca do Zé Paulo: achados do pensamento crítico”
  7. CELATS: Social Work Latin American Centre, which used to edit Revista Acción Crítica, an important magazine for social work in Latin America. ALAETS (Latin American Association of Social Work Schools); suggested the necessity of developing an academic arm which spread the projection of the institution. Therefore, in 1975 was created CELAT, an institution which emerged with the status of International Organism of Technical Cooperation, having as main purpose to contribute from social workers activity to the tasks of development and popular promotion.