It’s about confluences and ‘escrevivências’ in academia (and philanthropy), when will we understand?


Cássio Aoqui


Coined by Conceição Evaristo, the term ‘escrevivência’ is a combination of the words ‘writing’ and ‘experience’ in Portuguese, and refers to writing that comes from everyday life, from memories, from the life experience of the author herself and her Black people.

A little boy playing at Flup (Literary Festival of Peripheries), held in Rio.

One began on Saturday, October 7, and ran until Wednesday, October 11. Another began the very next day, on the holiday of October 12.

The first, in São Paulo, in the Bela Vista neighborhood, or rather in good old Bixiga, in the most traditional elite business school in the country and right next to the Quilombo do Saracura and all the stories and narratives that have been tried to be erased.

The second, at the foot of Morro da Providência, Brazil’s first favela (some say the world’s), in Rio, perhaps today with fewer faveleiras planted, but many more struggles and resistance sprouting up.

I was able to be in both. Far from one or the other, zero or one, I couldn’t help but see them all together and mixed in my mind and heart, as I noticed the confluences on that muggy Sunday afternoon, even though I was aware that ‘not everything that comes together mixes’ and ‘not everything that mixes comes together’. 

In the midst of some of the people I most admire in academia, who research, resist and teach in every corner of this Latin America that crosses us so much or so little, in all the sessions I attended at the Latin American version of the International Society for Third Sector Research, the first of the two events, we spoke openly about our discomforts in the production of current knowledge.

  • We talked about the concept of ‘othering’ and who says and paints the ‘other’, soaking in our privileges and myopias.
  • We discussed the distance between those who do research and the territories being researched (far beyond ‘doing fieldwork’, which is punctual and self-interested), and the people in the flesh and blood on whom we want to influence (invade?).
  • We emphasised the need for an agnostic (not to say prejudiced) approach to the neo-Pentecostal movement in the peripheries of Latin America.
  • We questioned ‘who has the power to decide the research question?’ in supposedly collaborative research.
  • We reflected in difficult terms on competing ontological visions in the Gramscian field of civil society (for example, between solidarity economy and impact businesses or between the many philanthropies, such as strategic, collaborative, social justice and decolonial).
  • We talked about engaged research, thinking, feeling, ‘corazoning’, about the ethics of care and about affections.

At one point, in a circle (yes, circle, that super-innovation that academia is still a long way from reinventing), someone asked: ‘How difficult it is to unlearn?’. 

It is very difficult. 

A festival of knowledge

At the other end of the Rio-São Paulo highway, with the Providência favela in the background, I only listened in silence (how wonderful!). I was at Flup, the Literary Festival of the Peripheries. We weren’t in a circle (nor would we be, with all the chairs occupied and dozens of people standing in every space of the tent), but there was talk about the criminalised circularity (of the rodas de batuque, de capoeira and so many others).

It wasn’t a circle, but a spiral of bodies and souls!

Among so many exciting activities, I’d like to highlight the panel: ‘Confluences and Escrevivências, much more than rhymes’, with none other than Conceição Evaristo and Antonio Bispo dos Santos, with impeccable mediation by Flavia de Oliveira.

In just 90 minutes, the pair materialised – or rather, ‘photographed’, as Bispo would say – the words into concepts that I have been intuiting and trying to express, whether here, in academia or in philanthropy (and at the intersection of everything).

On the concept of confluence, for example, I learned more about the third one, in the territory. Always captivating, Bispo also highlighted the counter-colonization of knowledge, Afro-Indian social thought and what he will bring in his next book, by Companhia das Letras: quilombos, miracles and spells. ‘Whether you understand it or not, now it’s for better or worse,’ he joked.

Conceição, on the other hand, went beyond the writing of Afro-diasporic bodies and brought both Sueli Carneiro’s epistemicide and Leda Martins’ inspiring spiral time.

‘These are not simple concepts. They are ways of coping. Academia is not used to thinking about spiral time, confluence and escrevivência. In syncretism. […] Our theory is born together with practice. It’s born in life. In the exercise of life,’ Conceição concludes.

I am currently experiencing a wonderful onto-epistemo-methodological crisis in my doctorate and my practices, about the knowledge that nourishes me and that I would like to sow. So that I couldn’t have had masters with more wisdom than in that tent on a warm afternoon in Rio.

Bispo told the story of Ana Mumbuca, when she was writing her master’s dissertation on the Mumbuca quilombo in Jalapão (TO), which I had the good fortune to visit years ago.

‘She wanted to use the concept of counter-colonialism, but her ‘un’supervisor was insisting that she work with decoloniality. She finally found a professor – a white one – who said he just wouldn’t advise her because he wasn’t familiar with the concept she wanted to work on. She didn’t back down and gave him my book. To everyone’s surprise, he read it and said: ‘Now, yes, I can guide you’. At her final defence, the professor, moved to tears, said: ‘This is the first time I’ve seen the student advising the adviser so that he could advise her’.’

Conceição emphasised the limitations of written language. ‘My great desire is for my texts, including academic ones, to be as close to oral as possible. Written text is incomplete. It doesn’t say enough. For example, to this day I haven’t written down a scene that marked me. I was on the hill and I saw a boy, a sentry, with a machine gun on his back. Then a young girl comes up with a little boy. Then the young man throws the machine gun behind him and hugs the child. The woman is thrilled. I don’t want to leave out the machine gun, but what interests me is a young father, a young mother, the child. For me, a holy trinity. […] Writing is a way of bleeding.’

For both, the university must recognise that today’s agenda is different: cosmogony, cosmovision, ancestry.

But Conceição is quite pragmatic when asked about the risk of black people losing the potential of their grandparents’ generation when they occupy academic spaces:

‘Academia won’t change if you’re not in it. The way discourse is created, the way writing is done […]. We can’t be naïve enough not to think that we need to be there and take possession of these spaces of knowledge as our right. Whether as an academic, as a researcher, as a dean, as an evaluator for Capes or CNPq, defining who the grant goes to and how […].’

On the art of teaching, Bispo tells the story of his mentor, uncle Noberto, who, on the verge of dying, called him into his room, locked the door and said: ‘My life is now all in your hands. […] I taught you everything I knew, but I didn’t know everything I wanted to teach you. As long as you teach what I knew, I’ll be alive, even buried. But the day you refuse to pass on what you know…’. 

What an inspiration to drink in so much natural, humorous, uncomplicated, profound wisdom! So much knowledge, so many dense and yet lively concepts! And it’s clear to me that all this is not just about producing knowledge. It’s about making social change. About Brazilian civil society for Brazilian civil society.

Curiously, apart from the discussions about academia that have permeated me over the last few days, I didn’t see anyone from philanthropy in that tent at the foot of Morro da Providência (but I also confess that I didn’t make any effort to look).

I wonder: where were they? Have they known, reflected and mirrored their actions in this knowledge and know-how? Because if we don’t take inspiration and learn from our own Nobel Prize winners, who know the challenges and potential of our country like no one else, how will we ever move closer to genuinely Brazilian philanthropies?

Cássio Aoqui is a PhD Candidate (University of São Paulo) and ISTR member. Cássio was part of the ISTR LAC local host committee in 2023. As a journalist and with a MSc. in Administration, Cássio has been working with philanthropy for around two decades. 

Tagged in: #ISTR2023

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