Brazilian Higher Education in the light of Bourdieu in times of COVID-19



BUSQUET, Leandro Martins Cota [1]

BUSQUET, Leandro Martins Cota. Brazilian Higher Education in the light of Bourdieu in times of COVID-19. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year 05, Ed. 12, Vol. 11, pp. 26-33. December 2020. ISSN: 2448-0959, Access link:


This article contributes to the understanding of public higher education in Brazil based on the thoughts of Pierre Bourdieu in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a political analysis, the Brazilian historical subordination to the longings of hegemonic countries is evidenced. In this context, it demonstrates that the capitalist system tries to maintain its project of sociability as something inexorable and in higher education this is no different. Neoliberal predictability is exposed by concealing its old market guidelines under a fallaciously more humanized bias. Measures to reduce virus contagion were addressed through guidelines from the Unified Health System. Criticisms were made to lead the reader to identify the precariousness of public universities to the detriment of the progress and legal favoritism of distance learning. The article concludes that the debate and the construction of a dialectical theoretical-methodological framework operationalize means of confronting the attacks of the neoliberal system on public higher education.

Keywords: Brazilian higher education, Pierre Bourdieu, COVID-19, Neoliberalism, Public University.


Brazilian higher education, long portrayed by established authors in the area, has always been influenced by the dictates of large business and international financial organizations. In times of COVID-19, situations that could once go unnoticed by the general public begin to gain expression. In view of the analysis of an increasingly critical society, new elements are exposed, however camouflaged in an attempt by neoliberalism to conform the working class by the nickname of: “do it yourself”, “you are capable alone”, “have discipline”, among many others.

Under this bias, some questions begin to arise that, in passing, contribute to elucidate and erode the primary structures of the neoliberal attempt to perpetuate the system as something natural. Here is a study that can cooperate both for the elucidation of the facts and for the improvement of the instrumentality of all those who intend to transform this project of sociability. In this way:

This is what I believe to express when I describe the global social space as a field, that is, at the same time, as a force field, whose need is imposed on the agents involved in it, and as a field of struggles, within which agents face each other, with different means and purposes according to their position in the structure of the force field , thus contributing to the conservation or transformation of its structure (BOURDIEU, 2011a, p. 50).

In this respect, according to the author, we are social agents, that is, we do not have predefined roles in society. We’re thoughtful beings. Therefore, analyzing this context through a dialectical procedural perspective is necessary so that there is no watertight perspective of the Brazilian reality, that is, something without contradictions and, therefore, without taints regarding our higher education institution.


Historically, Brazil has always been subordinate to the precepts of the hegemonic countries, especially the United States and international financial organizations. This occurred in all areas, in education was no different. With the entry of large capital there is a massive attempt to exploit this which has become an inexhaustible source of resources. Increasingly, the forced scrapping of public academic institutions and the favoritism of large private university organizations can be observed. There’s nothing new about it.

However, society, particularly the working class, is becoming increasingly “multifaceted”. This expression reminds us of what Bourdieu et. al. (1963) he said about the algerian issue: by drawing a parallel to this reality with that of our country, it can be observed how something that happened decades ago can be so current in our day. The capitalist system is perverse, but it is also predictable: there are crises that are inherent in its maintenance and reproduction. In this dynamic, the most affected is the working class, through precarious jobs, underemployment, etc.

The idea is precisely this: to dilute in order to conform and bring to the foreine certain strangeness with the reality in which one lives, that is, the feeling of not belonging to a social class that is historically debased in socially conquered rights. This analysis can be performed immediately or permeated by interests inherent to the system, because after all they are antagonistic projects of sociability, or as Bourdieu (1989) rightly states, the “fields”, since:

To understand the social genesis of a field and to grasp what makes the specific need of the belief that sustains it, of the game of language played in it, of the material and symbolic things at stake that are generated in it, is to explain, make it necessary, to subtract from the absurdity of the arbitrary and the unmotivated the acts of the producers and the works produced by them (BOURDIEU , 1989, p. 69).

These correlations of forces permeate the various societal areas, and education, more specifically the higher education of our country, is not outside. There is nothing more alienated and alienating than remaining in this “siege”. The capital system does not waste anything and no one, at most there are social agents who are on the sidelines and, when necessary, are reincorporated. This may occur through alienation, exploitation or (self) exploitation.


With the pandemic caused by COVID-19 there was also an intensification of despair, uncertainties, a significant increase in so-called fake news, and other factors that corroborate the triggering of a series of issues that emerge in our society historically deteriorated by the capitalist system. According to the Website of the Ministry of Health:

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats and bats. Rarely, coronaviruses that infect animals can infect people, such as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. Recently, in December 2019, a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was transmitted, which was identified in Wuhan in China and caused COVID-19, which was then disseminated and transmitted person to person. COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, which has a clinical spectrum ranging from asymptomatic infections to severe conditions. According to the World Health Organization, the majority (about 80%) of patients with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic or oligosymptomatic (few symptoms), and approximately 20% of the detected cases require hospital care because they have difficulty breathing, of which approximately 5% may need ventilatory support. (BRAZIL, 2020)

Thus, until the arrival of an effective vaccine and the consequent immunization of the Brazilian people, measures were necessary to reduce contagion, in order to prevent the “swelling” and collapse of the Unified Health System (SUS), as well as the saturation of the private sectors. The use of masks and strict hygiene measures had to be adopted by the population. In this context, several expressions (measures) have emerged previously unknown by many Brazilians, including: social isolation, quarantine and lockdown. According to dasa website:

      • Social isolation: It is a medical recommendation for people who may have had contact with an infected patient or are awaiting the test results (on contamination by the new Coronavirus) or have the diagnosis confirmed. In these cases, it is recommended that they be isolated from the other ones and avoid the spread of the disease. Isolation can be both home and hospital, depending on the severity of each case […]
      •  Quarantine: People who have had contact with patients infected with the virus or have been in regions with outbreaks of the disease should remain in quarantine. The duration of quarantine is determined according to the incubation period (time in which the disease manifests), and can range from 1 to 14 days. The goal is to observe over the days if the person presents any symptoms and thus control the spread of the new Coronavirus.
      • Lockdown: It is a measure imposed by the state. If social isolation and quarantine are not sufficient or respected, the State intervenes to limit the movement of the population, which includes the closure of roads (prohibiting non-essential displacements) and public and private places. (DASA, 2020)


In this new reality that is imposed, public universities have become even more exposed. In daily life, the difficulties are extreme: increased access to public education in person as opposed to precarious conditions of physical facilities, without offering structural quality, in addition to overloaded teachers. This vertiginous advance to “forced scrapping” occurs to the same extent that the opening of distance learning in undergraduate and graduate courses lato sensu is expanded as a way to devalue the critical debate through dilution among the public-private.

All this has been going on for a long time, but in the COVID-19 pandemic distance learning is further strengthened as a way of removing from the “field” of the debate the persistence of the neoliberal system in maintaining its project of sociability as something naturalized.

In a determined social formation, the pedagogical work by which the dominant pedagogical action takes place always has a function of maintaining the order, that is, of reproducing the structure of the force relations between groups or classes, to the extent that it tends, either by inculcation or by exclusion, to impose on the members of the groups or classes dominated the recognition of the legitimacy of the dominant culture , and to make them internalize, to a variable extent, disciplines and censorship that serve both the best to the interests, material or symbolic, of the dominant groups or classes, the more they take the form of self-discipline and self-censorship. (BOURDIEU; PASSERON, 2011, p.63)

When reflecting on these issues, distance learning starts to fallaciously reframed as something “messianic”. If we talk about internet access in our country, which remains somewhat precarious, it is interesting to note that the issue of precariousness had already been analyzed by Pierre Bourdieu (1963) since the 1960s. However, when analyzing the most recent political-legal frameworks that enmesh all this problem, we cannot forget the role of the Ministry of Education (MEC) as a participant in this neoliberal “humanist” endeavor, namely: the creation of mechanisms that generate conditions to maintain everything as is. This brings us back to Bourdieu’s (1996) analysis of what is called “symbolic violence”, that is, some type of domination that can be disseminated by a certain dominant group and accepted in a totally unconscious way as something naturalized by the working class.

By drawing a parallel with this reality, it can be exemplified the alert of the Association of Professors of the Fluminense Federal University/Union Section of Andes-SN (ADUFF/SSIND), where they inform on that website that the MEC recently launched, on October 23, 2020, through Ordinance 434, a working group that asduces the development of some activities:

The Ministry of Education (MEC) established a working group to discuss, develop and present strategies to expand the offer of higher education courses, in the Distance Education (DE) modality, at federal universities. Ordinance 434 of the Secretariat of Higher Education (Sesu / MEC) was published on Friday (23) in the Official Gazette of the Union and comes into force on November 3. “This ordinance represents another step by the government to materialize what ANDES-SN has been denouncing since the beginning of the pandemic: the federal government will take advantage of the situation imposed by the new coronavirus to deepen the precariousness and commodification of Public Education and to advance the implementation of distance education. in federal educational institutions ”, criticizes Antonio Gonçalves, president of ANDES-SN. According to the decree, the WG, of an advisory nature, will have the task of identifying potentialities and proposing strategies to expand the offer of higher education courses in distance education, at federal universities; assist in the construction of indicators and mechanisms for monitoring the results of the Higher Education Expansion Project, through digital means, in order to enable the monitoring of distance education; among others. The group will comprise representatives of Sesu / MEC, the University Network Association (UniRede), the Brazilian Distance Education Association (Abed), the National Teaching and Research Network (RNP) and representatives of federal universities, being a holder and one alternate per region. The WG will have 180 days to present the conclusion of the work. The deadline can be extended by Sesu / MEC. (ASSOCIAÇÃO DOS DOCENTES DA UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL FLUMINENSE/SEÇÃO SINDICAL DO ANDES-SN, 2020).

This essence is often not assimilated by everyone. Thus, “Symbolic violence is a violence that is exercised with the tacit complicity of those who suffer it and also, often, of those who exercise it to the extent that one and the other are unaware of exercising or suffering” (BOURDIEU, 1996, p. 16). The French sociologist goes further by stating that “What I call symbolic violence or symbolic domination, that is, forms of coertion that are based on non-conscious agreements between objective structures and mental structures” (BOURDIEU, 2012, p. 239). That is why he claims that the state acts as one that governs both physical and symbolic violence, and this can be found even in the education system.


According to what has been exposed, a reflection mediated by a deepening of Pierre Bourdieu’s analyses about the precariousization of work and all other factors that can integrate this problem is necessary. To analyze Brazilian higher education holistically (inside and outside the pandemic) is to understand the various fields in constant disputes. These issues need to be assimilated and debated so that mechanisms are not introjected between us that we will have difficulties to derify later. Thus, building a theoretical-methodological framework with instrumentality in coping with the debate is necessary by all those who desire the transformation of this specific reality of our country.


ASSOCIAÇÃO DOS DOCENTES DA UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL FLUMINENSE/SEÇÃO SINDICAL DO ANDES-SN. MEC cria grupo de trabalho para ampliar oferta de EAD nas universidades federais. Disponível em: Acesso em: 25/11/2020

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BOURDIEU, Pierre; PASSERON, Jean-Claude. A reprodução: Elementos para uma teoria do sistema de ensino. 4ª ed. Petrópolis: Vozes, 2011.

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BRASIL. Portaria 434, de 22 de outubro de 2020. Institui Grupo de Trabalho com a finalidade de subsidiar a discussão, a elaboração e a apresentação de estratégias para a ampliação da oferta dos cursos de nível superior, na modalidade de educação à distância – EaD, nas universidades federais. Disponível em: Acesso em: 25/11/2020.

DASA. Lockdown durante a pandemia do Coronavírus: o que é e quais países adotaram. Disponível em: Acesso em: 25/11/2020.

[1] Master in Information Science, Graduated in Librariany and Documentation and Graduated in Social Work.

Submitted: December, 2020.

Approved: December, 2020.


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