Without taking responsibility for concrete acts of abuse committed, there is no self-criticism

Third Letter of the Collective of Victims on the Recent Positions of Boaventura de Sousa Santos

 We present ourselves as a collective of women who have suffered different types of violence as a result of the pattern of abuse of power that was naturalized in the work teams led by Boaventura de Sousa Santos and considered inevitable by the people who occupied positions of authority in the Centre for Social Studies (CES) for many years. Our initial letter is attached below. Since we started to share our reflections, the number of people has increased. We have been in contact with other women who have experienced stories similar to ours. The abuse experienced is not limited to inconvenient moments promoted by a man incapable of understanding that the world has changed. It is very difficult to believe that a professional sociologist, internationally recognized as one of the greatest left-wing intellectuals, cannot understand the changes in society and adapt to them. Despite all the privilege and power that Boaventura has always had at his disposal and although his studies have always drawn attention to patriarchy as a form of oppression, Boaventura has ignored what he has written and has not adapted to the demands of a less oppressive world. His behavior with his teams, co-workers, students, and mentors was not a cultural reflection of the times, but a conscious choice.

Our experiences allow us to state that the evident contradictions between Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ theory and the power relations normalized in his work culture could never be problematized, because maintaining hierarchies, with their patterns of exploitation and abuse, guaranteed him clear advantages that he was not willing to give up. A person who is willing to be self-critical must recognize from the outset that he has received advantages as a result of the unequal relations he has consciously or unconsciously promoted. In our group, some women have accumulated traumas related to their working relationship with Boaventura de Sousa Santos, with serious consequences for their careers. The first set of questions we ask is: Does Boaventura, who is now self-critical, admit that he was highly privileged within the culture of unequal relations he promoted? What privileges does he acknowledge? What damage and harm did he cause to the women with whom he had a working relationship or privilege in an academic hierarchy? Generic self-criticism does not undo harm or overcome inequalities. We have to take responsibility and do it concretely.


Our collective is pushing for a commission that focuses on protecting the victims and not defending the perpetrators. That is our goal. We do not want to cancel people; we want a full investigation of the facts and respect for the rights of the victims and their stories of pain and suffering. We want justice! The necessary investigation of the cases must ensure a space where victims can testify without fear of retaliation. We know that power is unequally distributed and that is why many women are silenced. It is essential that the Commission be established and that its absolute independence from the Centre for Social Studies (CES) be guaranteed. Since our first letter to the CES, although we received a quick response and expressed concern about guaranteeing the rights of victims, nothing has changed. What we have seen is that Boaventura is using the power he has to secure airtime and air his version of the facts to the fullest, while we wait and hope that the procedures of the CES are correct and guarantee that our rights will be respected and that we will be welcomed in a safe context to present our stories along with the evidence we have gathered. It is therefore worrying that the news we are getting about the Commission is coming from the media and creating uncertainty about how it will actually work. In one place, it is stated that the Commission will consist of one CES member and two external persons. In another place it is said that the Commission will be completely independent. Our second set of questions is: When will the terms of operation of the Commission be known to the public (its mandate, the guarantee of its autonomy and independent functioning, its objectives, the ethical rules it is bound to follow, the rules of confidentiality it will have to follow, the rules the CES will have to follow for the selection of its appointees)? Does the CES intend to present a minimum set of public commitments regarding the Commission and its functioning, as well as a timetable that will ensure a careful selection of professionals and guarantee when the work will begin and how it will be carried out?

We were not convinced by the response that Boaventura de Sousa Santos circulated in response to the accusations made by Mapuche Indigenous activist Moira Millán. It is surprising to see how Boaventura, an intellectual activist for progressive causes, including feminism, following the strategies of demoralization of the victims and the argument of lack of denunciation when the violence occurred in the context of a structure in which he had very high hierarchical power and influence over the career and universe of work or activism of his victims. We responded to the letter on April 27, although it had little visibility, especially in the Portuguese media (link: https://sol.sapo.pt/artigo/797956/boaventura-sousa-santos-coletivo-de-mu...). 

The latest text published by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, despite its title, is not a self-criticism. Once again, Boaventura follows the playbook: after demoralizing the victims, he makes an empty self-criticism exercise, that is just another attempt to convince the public of the alleged injustice he is suffering and that he is not responsible for the acts of which he is accused, even though there is an increasing number of women who corroborate the information. To illustrate the pattern Boaventura uses in his responses, we reproduce some excerpts from the statement given by Harvey Weinstein in response to allegations of sexual harassment: I came of age in the ‘60s and ’70s when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office - or out of it. To anyone. I realized some time ago that I needed to be a better person and my interactions with the people I work with have changed. I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.

Instead of an analysis of his own privilege, Boaventura presents a superficial and generic reading of the social scenario resulting from the transformations that have taken place in modern societies as a result of feminist struggles and the challenges we face today. In his statement, he argues that much of what is unacceptable today was acceptable in the era from which he comes. As it happens, human rights – and women’s rights in particular – were central to the sociology he developed and the commitments he made to social movements. It is difficult to accept ignorance or lack of awareness as an excuse after so many books written; so many lectures, so many classes, so many workshops, so many forums on heteropatriarchy. The text ultimately proves how Boaventura has selectively learned the lessons of feminist social struggles and human rights according to his interests. For example, he has not learned what accountability means. Self-criticism without accountability is just another step taken by those with power to control the narrative. The human rights movement has shown for years that accountability means taking concrete responsibility for the acts committed, acknowledging the violence of the acts and the harm caused, and making reparations to the victims. A third set of questions is again addressed to Boaventura: The inappropriate acts, which he attributes to culture rather than to himself, were committed against whom? What kind of situations were they: bullying or sexual harassment or both? What measures has Boaventura taken or intends to take to provide reparation to the victims of his harmful actions? Or are you just talking about harmless inappropriate acts that caused no harm or suffering to anyone? If they did not cause harm or suffering, why is there a need to be self-critical? 

The answers need to be concrete. We have our stories to demand real accountability. We know that what we suffered was not a harmless case of a professor standing still in time, unaware that the world has moved on. We are talking about a systematic pattern of abuse that has been reproduced with different women, in different situations. Boaventura’s latest text contradicts its own intention, it does not advance one millimeter in the recognition of feminist struggles and women’s rights, although in it Boaventura feels surprisingly comfortable dictating rules on how procedures should work in cases of harassment of which he has never been a victim.

We know that Boaventura has a deep understanding of how power relations and forms of domination work in society. He understands how patriarchy works so well that he has always been able to use it in different ways. He understands the power of social struggles so well that he has used women who were willing to sacrifice themselves because denouncing him would always be used to undermine all the struggles that these women publicly defend and that are truly important to us. 

Even if the excuse of ignorance could be acceptable, lamenting the discomfort caused to the victims is at the very least insufficient and, in our opinion, offensive. We do not want to talk about the discomfort we have always learned to deal with, which wears us out but does not defeat us. We want to talk about a normalized pattern of abuse that has become too obvious to ignore. We want to talk about traumas that have been silenced; about careers that have been interrupted, stalled, or severely sacrificed; about the persecution that has resulted from an arbitrary distribution of power that has served him. There can be no justice without the truth about what happened, and no acquittal without an effort to repair the damage. 

As long as the CES does not set up the promised commission of inquiry, it is Boaventura who will benefit, because he has the power to control the narrative. While he prepares his crisis communication without acknowledging a single concrete mistake, our careers and our lives continue to be shaken, with no end in sight. Inequality continues to weigh on us, and our letters are not published at the same speed and in the same number of social media outlets. We are still here, reliving the traumas and relying only on each other. Our healing has yet to take place.

On June 6th, 2023.




We present ourselves as a collective of women who have suffered different types of violence as a result of the pattern of abuse of power that has become naturalized in the work teams led by Boaventura de Sousa Santos and considered inevitable by the people who have occupied positions of authority in the CES (Centro de Estudos Sociais – University of Coimbra) for many years [see our initial letter attached to this one].

Our collective is focused on pushing for the creation of a commission that is focused on the protection of the victims and not on the defense of the aggressors. The necessary investigation of cases must ensure a space where victims can testify without fear of retaliation. We know that power is unequally distributed and that is why many women are silenced. 

The response circulated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos to the accusations made by Mapuche Indigenous activist Moira Millán (to which she has also responded – https://www.instagram.com/p/Crbt78YPTZJ/?img_index=1) addresses some of our concerns. We would like to clarify that we do not know the activist in question and have never contacted her. We do, however, take her story very seriously. 

If every criticism has the right to a response and every accusation has the right to a defense, it is necessary to break with the academic pact of truth production based on hierarchies that give the stronger side the power to define what is rational and what is irrational, what is probable and what is improbable, what is true and what is a lie, and what are the important questions to ask and, above all to answer.

In the narrative he adopts as proof of his innocence, Boaventura uses a logic of truth production that reproduces the structural problems of the academy: the professor chooses who and what to answer; he defines the terms of the debate; he disqualifies the victim and assumes that his word is more valuable.

In the abusers’ defense playbook is the use of evidence of warmth or even friendliness from women after the traumatic abusive behavior they report. Even if the entire email exchange purporting to prove continuity in the relationship between Moira Millán and Boaventura was true (which Moira Millán denies), it does not prove the absence of abuse.

It is common for women to suffer abuse and still be obligated to be polite to the abuser. We all know this because we were also raised to hide our feelings in order to avoid general discomfort, whether at a Christmas dinner or a work meeting. Failure to do so results in classifications well known to the patriarchy and to women who challenge it: insubordinate, conflicted, difficult, emotional, hysterical, crazy, desperate, and selfish. 

There are so many possible reasons for maintaining cordiality that we can only give examples: abusers are manipulative and can disguise as insensitivity and lack of empathy what was a rejection of the abuse; the guilt that women historically carry often makes them question what they said, what they wore, how they moved, before they can name what they experienced as violence; the power of the abuser to slander is exponentially greater than the power of the victim to report; abusers can be leaders of projects and work for causes that victims see as more important than their individual plight of suffering. 

At the end of his response, Boaventura de Sousa Santos states, “I cannot accept that false accusations are being made against me, as the facts well demonstrate,” but the facts he presents can only be understood as proof of innocence by those who have no idea what it is like to suffer harassment in a society that has always known how to protect the perpetrators better than the victims.

“I wish I didn’t have to take legal action to resolve this issue” is the kind of phrase that works in so many situations and that we recognize so well: the threat in a soft, condescending, patriarchal tone. Moira knows that the battle will be hard if she does not give up, and Boaventura hopes that his threat will be enough. He has grown accustomed to this over the course of his life. 

First of all, Boaventura assumes that the graffiti that appeared on the walls of Coimbra with accusations of sexual violence referred to the attack on Moira. We all know this is not true. The best known case was the sexual assault of the current Brazilian deputy Isabella Gonçalves, then a young doctoral student at the CES. Boaventura erases this case as if it never existed and there was no real complaint. 

We know it did exist. But Boaventura is used to define which questions and cases are relevant, as well as the valid and invalid interlocutors, because that is the power that the academy has attributed to a full professor, and it is this validation system that must be questioned. 

Boaventura takes as proof of the absence of harassment the fact that his house does not have a security system, as Moira claims. It turns out that it is common in Portugal for buildings that rarely have doormen to be protected by a common door for residents that can be opened from the outside with a code or key. None of this is necessary to exit, but for anyone who knows anything about interculturalism, or who has simply felt unsafe in places where they don’t know the rules, it is easy to understand how these doors could be perceived as a security system for those who come from a very different place. 

We insist that all these allegations must be investigated, and we know that the accused have the right to a defense, but it cannot be based on the same rules that have silenced us for so long. The perpetrators do not get to choose the questions they answer, and they do not have the right to choose and (dis)classify the victims. 

By trying to defend himself, Boaventura showed that he knows well the rules that protect the patriarchy and that he knows how to use them. He did not convince us. With this letter, we send a message of solidarity to Moira Millán: we believe you, because we recognize the pattern. 

Finally, we remind you that the email address querocontarminhahistoriaem23@gmail.com remains available to all those who have been affected by Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ abusive practices and who need a safe space to share their stories.

April 27, 2023.




We are an International Collective of Women from different backgrounds, now in different places and positions, who are or have been associated to the Centre for Social Studies (Centro de Estudos Sociais – CES) of the University of Coimbra, exercising functions within the research teams coordinated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos. Our experiences concern the period between 2000 and 2019.

We are women from different areas, with different individual profiles, who share an experience of trauma due to a pattern of abuse in the working relationship with Boaventura de Sousa Santos or people in authority legitimized by him.

Our stories are different, and so are the ways we deal with our pain. We find ourselves in different stages of healing. Some of us have already worked through the trauma, others are doing so, and others are beginning to accept that the violence we have experienced has a name. We have all, in the last few days, stirred up deep layers of pain that have been silenced for many years.

Abuse is not always easy to recognize. As we shared our experiences of violence with others, we found a recurring normalization of bad practices or the idea of their inevitability in hierarchical relationships between men and women. In this case, between a man at the highest level of his academic career and women at different levels of precariousness and vulnerability.

We have different histories and different needs. We have individual voices that have been silenced. Some of us need a lot of time to process what we have experienced. We share the urgency of breaking our silence and legitimizing the voices of those who have dared to publicly denounce a pattern of violence that results from patriarchal academic validation processes; the deep conviction that it is necessary to build another reality, inside and outside of universities and research centers, and that the CES can set an example, but cannot move forward without acknowledging the past of abuse, without ensuring that the truth is addressed head on, and without giving strong guarantees of non-repetition.

We are currently organizing as a collective of victims. We recognize the need for a safe space that can welcome people who have experienced the violations and other forms of violence that are being reported, support a collective healing process, and discuss strategies that meet the needs of women in their differences. We make ourselves available to other women who, like us, have been affected by these systematic abuses and who need to be welcomed and listened to without judgment. 

We want our stories, with the narratives of violence we have suffered, to be heard. The abuses we have suffered, beyond the trauma, have had serious impacts on the development of our careers. We have been dealing with the emotional and material damage of this working relationship on our own for years. 

With our lived experience and the wealth of evidence we are gathering, we want to offer proof so that there can be a serious investigation that leads to proper accountability. We have gathered testimonies and evidence that corroborate the practices described in the article “The walls spoke when no one else could,” clear examples of intellectual extractivism (appropriation of the intellectual work of research assistants, without due recognition of authorship and remuneration); sexual harassment, with retaliation and moral harassment as a result of the refusal of sexual advances; and the reproduction and maintenance of a toxic environment in work teams, by Boaventura de Sousa Santos.

We also have compelling evidence revealing a pattern of gender discrimination that is emotionally draining and acts as an ongoing barrier to career progress and professional development for female researchers. The overburdening of women with administrative, project management, and emotional management tasks; the deviation from agreed-upon research work in order to meet excessive and draining additional demands. Their contributions and work are frequently undervalued, as well as the difficulties they face in attaining greater autonomy or building independent partnerships with fellow researchers. These recurring practices constitute the broad panorama of abuses suffered by these women and must also be investigated.

Our organization as a collective shows that these are not isolated cases and that this is not about “revenge”. We understand that there is a systematic pattern of abuse that has disproportionately affected women over the years. It is necessary that the investigation of these cases be safe and that victims be guaranteed confidentiality and a listening and welcoming space where they can testify without fear of retaliation. For this reason, we consider it imperative that the Commission of Inquiry be completely impartial and independent from the CES, that mechanisms be created to receive other complaints and evidence, and that absolute guarantees of confidentiality be given to women who wish to report or add evidence to this process. 

We ask: If more women want to come forward and tell their stories of abuse, how will the ongoing investigation proceed? What is the process for offering testimonies and other evidence in the case under investigation? What safeguards are in place for women to feel safe telling their stories? 

To begin a process of change, we must change the way these cases are handled and put the defense, protection, and care of victims at the center. If we can survive these harms, let it serve as a catalyst for change and let no other woman go through what we went through.

If you have also been affected by the abusive practices of Boaventura de Sousa Santos and need a safe space to share your story, you can count on us. Write to us at: querocontarminhahistoriaem23@gmail.com.

April 17, 2023.



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