Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997


Domingues, J. M. (1997) 'Dialectics and Modernity, Autonomy and Solidarity'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 4, <>

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Received: 19/9/97      Accepted: 2/12/97      Published: 22/12/97


This article connects the contemporary crisis of modernity to the crisis of the Welfare State in the West and to its so far incomplete establishment in 'Latin'-America, with special reference to Brazil. The reflexivisation of modernity is thus linked to a discussion of citizenship and social police which harks back to the definition of the principles of social policy, focusing on the possible alternative of 'generative politics' as a means of creating new forms of collective solidarity. The crisis of dialectical thought and the problem of social change are thereby tackled and a different way of understanding them is put forward, in accordance with new sorts of contemporary sociability.

Brazil; Citizenship; Dialectics; Generative Politics; Modernity; Social Policy; Social Transformation; Solidarity

Ends Without an End: The End of Modernity?

Modernity has reached an impasse at the end of the century. Already accomplished to a great extent, though selectively and one-sidedly, it has lost much of its contradictory dynamics. With the defeat of Marxist socialism and the crisis of state-organised social regulation, the market has been seen as the only possibility for the institution of social order. This has been accompanied by a crisis of dialectical thinking. In the natural sciences, chaos theory shuns the idea of equilibrium and states the creative character of the disorganisation of natural systems (cf. Prigogine and Stengers, 1979). However, contemporary ideologies have denied this possibility. The inevitable outcome is the closure of the historical horizon. Modernity was cast as an eminently dialectical project; whether because it is believed that modernity has been accomplished or because modern hopes and expectations are given up, it has repeatedly stated its irrelevance (Bodei, 1985).

For Liberal thinkers, for instance in Fukuyama's (1992) Hegelian 'end of history', one no longer devises alternatives to the market and to liberal democracy, as already claimed by Hayek's (1944) Neoliberalism. Sociological neomodernism claims validity for the theses of the teleological and liberal-westerniser modernization theory of the 1960s (cf. Tyrakian, 1991). On the other hand, many versions of non-liberal postmodernism renounce the critique of the social order, with a mixture of apocalyptic fascination and impotence (cf. Baudrillard, 1978) or confine creativity to a functional role within systems oriented towards 'performance' (cf. Lyotard, 1979). The modern project is often deemed fallacious and as holding a blueprint for oppression, with its delusions of progress and reason; nevertheless, a melancholic and nostalgic attitude, devoid of real grief, since modernity as an object of libidinal cathexis is not really abandoned, sneaks into this approach (see Jay, 1992), mirroring the mood of more conservative versions of postmodernism (cf. Bell, 1976).

In daily life the situation looks similarly bleak. According to Habermas (1981: pp. 576 ff.), contemporary societies are beset by chronic, 'pathological' problems. They stem from an encroachment of self-steered systems (the market and state administration, which are independent from the creation of meaning for life and for social action) upon the 'life-world' (the sphere of the (re)production of culture, institutions and individual personality). Other writers locate the sources of the contemporary malaise in culture as such, with its depressed narcissistic and private-individualism, as well as for its de-individualising consumerism, which is entwined with the fall of the public sphere (Sennett, 1977; Lasch, 1979; Bellah, 1985; Heller and Feher, 1988: chapters 1 - 2; Souza Santos, 1995a: p. 255). For those who are left out, inclusion in consumer markets glows as the only concrete utopia.

A more optimistic picture is provided by some forms of postmodernism: a new cultural threshold has been announced (Souza Santos, 1995a; 1995b) and, as Foucault (1976) pioneeringly pointed out, capillary, localised and decentred forms of resistance have sprung up. For some (Maffesoli, 1988; 1996), the particularism of those forms of resistance should be seen as the new stuff of sociability tout court, overcoming hence both individualism and a rationalist and architectonic conception of society. The same can be said as to perspectives which stress the reflexive character of 'high' modernity (Beck, 1986; Giddens, 1990; 1991; 1992) or the emergence of new, decentred social movements (Melucci, 1997a), which will possibly reunite subjectivity and rationality in 'hypermodernity' (Touraine, 1992).

A reorganization of modernity, which will lead to a discussion of many aspects of the notion of citizenship today, seems imperative in order that this potential creativity may flourish. Since I shall try to discuss the issue also in relation to Brazil, 'high' modernity will be framed into a broader perspective. Although this is not specifically a comparative piece, it will develop a steady counterpoint between the West and 'Latin'-America, in particular between Britain and Brazil, which will help illuminate both situations.

The Organisations of Modernity

A complete and nuanced diagnosis of the development of modernity is offered by Wagner (1994). He emphasises human reflexivity and 'collective agency' plus, in particular, the necessity of collectivities of seeking out order, of building boundaries, practical and symbolic, of membership and exclusion. 'Modernizing offensives', carried out mainly by elites as well as by subaltern groups, are responsible for the establishment and diffusion of modern practices. The disembeddings provoked by modernity of individuals and collectivities from contexts which provide solid identities calls for an unceasing creative activity, so that new identities substitute for those ruined ones.

The project of modernity rests upon the axis of 'freedom and autonomy', demanding, in addition, the 'rational control' of the world. Freedom and autonomy implied an expansion towards contingency. However, the problem of order was soon shown to be paramount. The contradictory dynamics between freedom and order weaves the evolution of the four periods of modernity: 'restrict liberal modernity' bloomed in the nineteenth century; it was followed by a huge crisis, which paved the way to 'organised modernity'; this was hinted at in the last decade of that century and set in after the Second World War, becoming exhausted and contested in the sixties and the seventies; we live today through the second crisis of modernity. In the beginning modernity excluded the savage, workers and women from the bounds of civilisation. The state was then proposed as the privileged agency to incorporate and control them. The introduction of the universal franchise and of social policies, plus eventually the emergence of the Welfare State, along with a definition of a broad but elitist political system, were key moments in this process. 'Organised modernity', through re-embeddings and 'conventionalisations', furnished relative 'certainties' and greater 'manageability' to social life.

The end of the 1960s bore witness to a crisis of state-organised modernity (Wagner 1994: Part IV). Globalisation led to changes in allocative practices, to the crisis of Keynesianism and to the decline of national and class identities, although the expansion of 'conventionalisations' indicative of 'organised modernity' still carries on, especially in global terms. Whilst 'deregulations', a certain withdrawal of the state and incipient redefinitions of frontiers between it and civil society unfold, we do not know where the 'second crisis of modernity' shall land us.

Wagner's argument is closely bound to an opposition between freedom and contingency, identified with the 'self-organisation' of society on the one hand, and organisation and order (connected to state action) on the other. The market does not appear therefore as a way of organising society. But the market - although unstable and fraught with contingencies to individuals - has been a powerful means of achieving order, both in terms of a project and in practice (cf. Polanyi, 1944). It was a centre-piece of the modern discourse which was opposed to the unpredictability of passions, which led to chaos: calming them down with their stability, interests - in the end codified in pecuniary terms - furnished the link between the action of individuals and the social order articulated by the market (Halévy, 1924; Hirschman, 1977). A pivotal element of the tradition of modernity and of its re-embeddings resides therein. Moreover, although consumers are never entirely passive (Melucci, 1997b: chapter 10), market consumption has been a means of ordering society, through integration and distinctions, as well as through the differential distribution of material, symbolic and informational goods (Baudrillard, 1968: pp. 197, 246, 267; 1970: chapters 2, 3; 1972: pp. 87 ff., 111; Sarlo, 1994; Canclini, 1996: chapter 2).

Bauman's (1992) influence is patent in Wagner, in that he points to the fixation with the problem of order in modernity, after the daring flights of the Renaissance. More veiled, but quite deep an influence, is the Weberian 'iron cage' of bureaucratisation and its threat to freedom and autonomy (Weber, 1918). These are powerful ideas. In order to sharpen Wagner's standpoint, we need to break through the direct connection between individual freedom and social contingency. They must be distinguished: a social order may restrict the freedom (or even the liberty) of the individual, whilst it makes the predicaments of his or her life more contingent; in contrast, a more organised order may allow for greater possibilities of autonomy and choice, thereby making life positively contingent. Insofar as we cannot always foretell the outcome of our practical decisions, which are criss-crossed with risk, negative unintentional consequences of action may always ensue from the exercise of choice in the space of positive contingency. This says nothing, however, against what was suggested above, nor does it deny the validity of broadening possibly good starting-points or the necessity of creating social and state safety-nets (see Beck, 1986; Hutton, 1997). Bearing this in mind, we can search for a renewal of the organisation of modernity which enhances citizenship and upholds the freedom and positive aspects of contingency in social life. This in turn keeps risks and negative contingencies at bay which stem above all from social inequalities and the 'externalities' of the market (which encroach upon people's lives). It is not coincidental that the 'cultural revolution' of the 1960s, however critical of its rigidity, banked on the Welfare State's modernity. Let us take two examples from contemporary English history to expand this issue.

The 'sexual revolution' of the 1960s and 1970s was perpetrated by a generation which rejected the bourgeois world of their parents, who had given them - as sung by the Beatles - 'all that money can buy'. Nonetheless, this move was dependent upon the wealth and facilities of the time (Weeks, 1981: pp. 249 ff.). The previous generation had gone through the ordeal of economic depression and of war, coming to a period of order, standardisation and uniformity, accompanied by 'tense domesticity and anxious conformity' in the 1950s. The youth of the 1960s lived 'without fear of lack' (of security and comfort) and with the rise of a consumer culture, as a child of the economic boom of the preceding period. The middle classes could of course enjoy that affluence more broadly; yet it was amongst the working class youth that existential dissatisfaction first surfaced, in particular in connection with rock'n'roll and sex (and then with drugs). Second wave feminism emerged at that point (Segal, 1994: pp. 2 - 4). It was the state 'organisation' of modernity that granted room for discontent and led to the development of 'life style politics' (Giddens, 1991; 1992).

Wainwright (1994) helps us put the question on a more general plane. Criticising Hayek's Neoliberalism, she is keen, however, on the (local and uncodifiable) 'tacit knowledge' of the masses. This knowledge is articulated to new forms of property, neither private nor state based - but rather cooperative and social - and to new forms of political action (namely the Greens, in Germany, the feminist movement, workers' grassroots organizations, pacifist and ecological movements) which introduce new institutions and 'ways of life', displaying an interesting 'radical gradualism'. They count on the support of the Welfare State, even when trying to change how resources are utilised (Wainwright, 1994: p. 76). The same equation between the state-based organisation of modernity and collective and individual freedom seeps through Wainwright's discussion.

In so-called 'Latin'-America a similar process to the evolution of western modernity took place, with, in contrast, a tougher repressive content: the strategy followed by state elites in that period was one of 'cooptation-repression', in particular through corporate arrangements (Spalding, 1977: p. 94). I will now concentrate on Brazil.

In the nineteenth century, Brazil was clearly liberal vis-a-vis social legislation; the exception was the reinvention of associations inspired in the professional corporations of the colonial period. Slowly the state started to help organise social protection for public officials and, at the beginning of the twentieth century, workers established associations for mutual help (Fausto, 1976). Whilst a pattern of state intervention propelled by the elites was set with the sanitation problem already during the so-called 'Old Republic' (Hochman, forthcoming), the aftermath of the Revolution of 1930 witnessed a widening of the state's role in social policy. Through a form of 'regulated citizenship', which above all assisted the process of authoritarian modernisation that was staged from the 1930s onwards (Santos, 1979; Domingues, 1997c), Brazilian workers were brought into modern national society. Selectively, and in a controlled manner, the masses were embraced by the state. As an authoritarian answer to their mobilisation and free unionism in the preceding period, workers were granted social rights through their involvement in the formal labour market and official unions (modelled after the Italian fascist Carta del lavoro) (Vianna ,1978). All professions which were not defined by law were excluded. This was conspicuously the case with peasants.

That arrangement had little to do with the principles of proper citizenship, which imply instead the universal and egalitarian incorporation of all the members of society to the exercise of civic, political and social rights, through the mediation of the state - as suggested by Marshall (1950), his implicit evolutionism notwithstanding.[1] In contrast, 'regulated citizenship' mixed principles related to 'work merit' and to contributions (as in the explicit case of pensions, which, despite distortions, follow directly what one has paid along his or her life) with the cancellation, or strict control, of political citizenship. Furthermore, only gradually did social services became effective, due to the resistance of the bourgeoisie (Vianna, 1978; Domingues, 1997b).

A piecemeal inclusion of benefits and an increase in the breadth of cover was obtained during the 'democratic' interlude of 1945-64, especially with the universalisation of health care for urban areas and the unification of retirement funds. It was only under the military dictatorship inaugurated in 1964 that new legislation was enacted. The extension of social security (medicine and retirement pensions) to the peasantry and some new labour legislation, both without connection to contributions, meant that social citizenship started to become universalised (although the privatisation of social services, all-pervading today, began at that stage) (Santos, 1979, chapters 2, 4, 5; Cohn, 1992). The 1988 Constitution, promulgated after the demise of the military dictatorship, introduced a universalisation of rights. The system of funding remained connected to contributions according to salary, entailing the permanence of disparities in the appropriation of resources as well as a crisis of funding (Cohn, 1992).

The crisis of developmental strategies and of state intervention, alongside the ideological triumph of Neoliberalism, entailed an attempt at substituting the exclusive action of the market for state provision. The 'Republican Tradition' in Brazil, embodying the increasing concern of liberal-democratic elites with social rights, was politically defeated, although these remain in the forefront of political life (Vianna, 1991; Reis, 1993). The mere alleviation of poverty has, however, become the outstanding issue (plus changes in the system of pensions and the crisis of health care). At the same time, in the name of resuming modernisation, state 'elites' sought 'governality' and the closure of the political system, eschewing the concern with democratization (Santos, 1994; Avritzer, 1996: chapter 6). Moreover, even the civic aspect of citizenship is still restricted within the bounds of a political culture (of the elites, but also across the population at large) with strong elements of authoritarianism, which privileges modernisation rather than democracy (Avritzer, 1996).

An additional problem has to be reckoned with here. The Brazilian tradition, likewise that of other 'Latin'-American countries, has heavily relied on the state as the instrument for overcoming social inequalities (see Castañeda, 1993). One might attribute this to an anti-individualistic Neo-Thomist tradition, which placed the state at the core of an integrative social ethics (Morse, 1982; Domingues, 1995b). Efforts at self-provision of social care can be sporadically observed in Brazil and elsewhere (see the brief remarks in Fernandes, 1994: pp. 45, 94, 128), but this is certainly neither a generalised or systematic phenomenon, nor has it occupied the imagination and the practice of organised social movements - with the exception of initiatives backed up by Catholicism. Thus, if the reorientation of social thought towards society is crucial in Europe (though no surrender to individualism should be envisaged) more is this true in 'Latin'-America. To some measure, one might say that this continent takes even further the polarisation between state and market which has been so central to Western thinking. This piece therefore fits into a general movement which should be contemplated in those countries too, in particular in Brazil, as a means of both establishing social welfare and possibly enhancing freer flights of individual and collective reflexivity.

Reorganising Modernity: Autonomy, Equality and Collective Security

What might a 'reorganisation of modernity' mean? A central role for the state - assuring public policies to guarantee social citizenship - looks essential. In this regard, much of our Neo-Thomist tradition remains valid. The best possible immediate goal of contemporary society - including for 'Latin'-America (Castañeda, 1993: chapter 14) - is to an extent the modernity of Social-Democracy, with its dependence upon capitalism and bureaucratisation plus the clear-cut separation between the public and the private, with the citizen reduced to the roles of voter-client and producer-consumer. By no means can the market supply all the patterns, tools and resources for a democratic and universal incorporation of the citizens of each national state and of a global society. Strong and far-reaching public policies, not merely selective but universalising and egalitarian, are demanded. It would be too shy a project that chose to disregard the crisis of the Welfare State and the cultural and political problems it brings up (see Rosanvalon, 1981; Offe, 1984). This is true at the centre of the global system as well as at the periphery, although low (31% in Brazil) and regressive taxation must also be taken into account.

Social-Democratic reform, which eventually gave up the attempted transition to socialism, placed the locus and tools of its political action on the state. Apart from strong connections with working class unions, it increasingly distanced itself from social movements, in particular from those which refused to accept the restricted character of the agendas proposed by its elites. In Marxism, a role for the masses as the carriers of revolution, or revolutionary reforms, was affirmed, but it was the party and the state that would centralise and coordinate the political and socio-economic process - at least during the transition from capitalism to communism (and indeed overwhelmingly in 'real socialism'). Social policies would eventually become pointless: the end of scarcity and of class-based society would make both their aim and goal disappear. In both projects a powerful and centred state held pride of place (Domingues, 1995a; 1996).

Those ideas have undergone terminal crisis because of their failures and practical shortcomings, and the Neoliberal offensive; last but not least, they were the target of a cultural critique (heightened by the social movements that emerged from the 1960s onwards) regarding the pervading presence of the state. In the case of 'Latin'-America, that critique has also surfaced (cf. Castañeda, 1993: chapter 7), but has not been as important, especially (but not exclusively - see below) insofar as one could hardly say that those countries have ever really had a Welfare-State. Expenditure has risen across the continent; the state financial crisis is, however, due above all to public debt, provoked by broader economic problems (especially by international financial relations). General social security has become ever more moulded after the North-American model and poverty has become the (elusive) target of a social policy entangled with clientelist practices. Although basic education (particularly in Brazil, at least in rhetorical terms, following World Bank advice) has been assigned to the state, the market has been enshrined as the mechanism for individual and family provision (in healthcare, retirement schemes, etc) (Laurell, 1992; Draibe, 1994). The problem is that, even if interesting proposals such as minimal income schemes have been put forward by the Left, the state has remained absolute as the kernel of any meaningful answer to Neoliberalism in 'Latin'-America (see, for Brazil for instance, Sader, 1994).[2] There is a great part to be played by the state in those countries but one can certainly raise the question of whether we should just follow the paths opened by other countries or whether we can learn from their dead ends and hence avoid the problems they face today.

Putting forward a critique of a certain conservatism and the defensive posture of the Left today, Giddens intends to contribute decisively to overcome that crisis. Drawing significantly upon Beck's (1986) ideas, he suggests that nature no longer exists as an autonomous entity in relation with humanity and that the project of the Enlightenment of 'increasing mastery' of the world by means of the accumulation of knowledge proved self-defeating. That accumulation has itself generated growing uncertainty, mutability and reflexivity. Risks have become humanly produced. Although it is not a question of renouncing knowledge to tackle the world, 'damage control and repair' are now highly necessary (Giddens, 1994: pp. 3 - 4). Within the framework of his 'utopian realism', six propositions are vital for a renewal of 'radical politics'. Issues related to inequality and the destructive workings of the market retain great relevance for him, but he refuses a leftist label and resumes ideas from Conservative thinkers (explicitly rejecting, however, Neoliberalism) (Giddens, 1994: pp. 248 - 9, 12 - 9, 51 ff.). The repair of 'damaged solidarities', by means of 'active thrust', is necessary to reconcile autonomy and interdependency - in relations between genders or generations, and in the economic sphere. Thrust is decisive in a post-traditional order in which nothing is taken for granted any longer. 'Life style politics' is equally important, and for the same reason. The 'democratisation of democracy', which needs to become 'dialogical', at all levels, as well as the control of 'spirals of violence', between peoples, genders and other collectivities, are added to his programme. Finally he tries to rethink the Welfare State and introduces the idea of 'generative politics'. For him, the Welfare-State was never really effective in 'countering poverty' and 'producing large-scale income or wealth distribution', it held an implicit model of traditional gender roles (the 'male as breadwinner'). Moreover, its bureaucracy has been inflexible and impersonal, and the optimal workings of the system were tied to full employment.

In contrast, 'generative politics' (which depend as much on active thrust as on democratic dialogue) appear as a fundamental way of coping with issues of poverty and social exclusion so as to contribute to the exercise of 'lifestyle politics'. He implicitly draws upon his theory of structuration, especially in the sense that structures for him are both constraining and enabling, therefore providing resources for the development of individual action. He claims then that, providing material conditions and organisational frameworks to reflexive undertakings, generative politics '...seeks to allow individuals and groups to make things happen, rather than have things happen to them' (Giddens, 1994: pp. 15 - 19).

We thereby have a new way of thinking public policies (Giddens' (1994: pp. 68 - 9) misgivings and scepticism notwithstanding) possibly including a new socialist strategy. In this regard 'generative politics' is close to, in a sense, but also distinct from, Rosanvalon's (1981: pp. 10 ff.) reflections on the necessity of surpassing both private-individualism and the 'excessively state-based conception of solidarity' that is characteristic of the modern state in general and of the Welfare-State in particular. Rosanvalon goes further, though, in that he proposes a way to deal with the uncertainty of contemporary social life by means of recreating new collective, non-state based, forms of social solidarity. A future form of socialism, not properly at stake presently, could be envisaged from this self-governing organisation of social life (Rosanvalon, 1981: pp. 144 ff., 137 - 8). I shall sketch below a mix of principles of social policy. In any case, it can be suggested that this general outlook can contribute to surpass the antinomy identified by Souza Santos (1995a: pp. 240, 255) - today reinforced by the prevalence of the organisation of modernity by the market - between citizenship and subjectivity: whilst the former would conquer new territory, implying reflexive participation and active thrust and the solidarity between individual and collective subjectivities, the latter could remain in its individual and collective specificity. The 'principle of community' would thereby be recast and strengthened (Souza Santos, 1995b: pp. 22 ff.). In contrast to the abstracting and reifying atomisation of the citizen of the Welfare State, this might allow for autonomy, responsibility and concrete self-expression, avoiding Neoliberal strategies of cutting back and privatisation as well.

We must be careful when we criticise the Welfare State (see, for instance, Esping-Andersen, 1985; 1990; Pierson, 1991), so as to avert the pitfalls of Neoliberalism in its tough or soft versions, which is where Giddens and Rosanvalon (1995) more recently do not entirely succeed.[3] Steps in the direction of a universalisation of citizenship should be seen as second to none: if they were somehow a consequence of an opening by the elites to the incorporation of the masses, they were mainly a conquest of workers' movements through the building of electoral majorities - regardless of the deadlocks of the model today and of the criticisms it has received. Moreover, the heterogeneity of the Welfare State, in terms of organising principles, has been empirically demonstrated (Palme, 1990: p. 110; Barry, 1990: p. 100). This seems to hold good in normative ways too. That is, the implementation of generative politics at diverse levels should not be opposed to citizenship. It would be even worse (as in the case of World Bank policies) to return merely to compensatory policies in the Poor Law style. On the contrary, citizenship must be associated with an increase in freedom and positive contingencies in the lives of people, along with the decrease of unforeseeable negative events which befall them, especially generated by the capitalist market - though also by ecological problems and other ones which stem from the always risky choices we have no choice other than to make now in our personal lives.

If this is the case with respect to the United Kingdom, we must be even more careful when referring to a country such as Brazil, a paradise to social inequalities, wherein the social policy question is much graver and shall not be solved by the implementation of emergency programmes and even partial attacks against the causes of poverty. This is intended by the Solidary Community programme of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government, which, even if it sometimes offers things such as training to youngsters, basically distributes benefits (such as food) which have remained under the aegis of clientelism.[4] The Brazilian 'system of social care' suffers from manifold problems: excessive centralisation, instability of funding, superposition of programmes, clienteles and services within and between the federal, state and municipal spheres, strong privatisation (especially in health care, which has moreover been quickly deteriorating), as well as discrimination via the position one occupies in the labour market as the main criteria of access to benefits and services (Cohn, 1994: p. 3). Considerable sums are spent on social programmes: 9.2% of the net expenditure of the treasury from 1982 to 1992, mounting to 27% between 1986 and 1989. Yet expenditure is insufficient and, furthermore, misdirected, with no systematic monitoring of the programmes (Cohn, 1994: pp. 8 - 11).[5] Assessments indicate distortions such as the appropriation of resources by public and private patronage and unfair distribution in general, with the poorest 19% of the population receiving only 6% of disbursements, whilst the richer 10% get around one third of resources (cf. Reis and Cheibub, 1993).

The old state-society relationship model is in crisis and it is not yet clear what will replace it. Nonetheless, the main trend is the commodification of social services, private and comprehensive for the rich, alongside restricted public provision for the poor, offering residual, cheap and basic services of low quality, plus 'emergency' programmes targeting the worst-off. That means curtailing social citizenship and establishing a two-layered system. The problems that derive from this are well-known - in particular in terms of cover, quality and public support. After the exhaustion of 'regulated citizenship' and the unfulfilled promise of universal citizenship proper, we are heading for a residual, 'liberal' Welfare-State, such as the North-American one (and increasingly also, to an extent, the British one). It is becoming clearly opposed to the corporatist model, in the German style, or a universalist model, such as the Swedish one (cf. Esping-Andersen, 1990: pp. 26 - 7; Draibe, 1994).

On the other hand, social reflexivity is also an issue in Brazil, partly linked to ongoing globalisation (Domingues, 1993) and individualising processes (see Velho, 1983; Koury, 1996; but think also in Beck's (1986: chapter 5) terms). Although a more clear-cut bourgeois 'ego' has become dominant more recently, the dissolution of traditional ways of life has led to greater reflexive openings, with contradictory results, once reembeddings often take on sharply modern guises. The state and the idea of modernisation as mirroring the West have been extremely significant in Brazil (Domingues, 1992; Reis, 1996). The Neoliberal push towards the market has entailed a reinforcement of the already deep-seated privatist, familial utilitarianism (cf. Habermas, 1973: pp. 105 ff.; Durhan, 1986; Reis, 1995). In turn, social movements have, as in other 'Latin'-American countries, fastened upon the establishment of basic rights, justice and democracy, rather than upon cultural experimentation (Olvera, 1997: p. 107). The tradition of modernity has thus received pride of place in Brazil, along with the modernisation of tradition and, more recently, a reflexive opening of modernity (see Domingues, 1997b). Unfortunately, there is little critical discussion about the relationship between social policy and modernity, except for a claim for the enhancement of citizenship. But it can be suggested that a mix of social policies could be as important in Brazil as in Europe. It may help open up the gamut of possibilities and choices for the middle and the working classes at the periphery of advanced modernity - especially insofar as access to information and the achievement of basic material conditions of life seem to be key elements for the exercise of reflexivity, but are unevenly and unequally distributed (Melucci, 1997b: pp. 99, 147). Generative politics could have great significance in this situation, reinforcing citizenship and equality as well as leading perhaps beyond modernity.

Moreover, I want to argue that this might in fact be the feasible contemporary content of the notion of 'developmental democracy' in its radical version, in which the health of institutions is dependent upon the participation of the citizen and the latter's not merely formal existence derives from the opening of the former to his or her action (Held, 1987: pp. 72 ff., 288 - 9). Nevertheless, this must not be just conflated with or reduced to the defence of a revitalisation of civil society, as the locus of solidarity, alongside the market and the state, which would be compelled to accept a mediation and limitation of their relationships with society or the 'life world' - as some adherents of Habermasian critical theory might understand it (cf. Habermas, 1992; Arato and Cohen, 1992; Avritzer, 1996; for the evolution of the concept in Brazil, see Costa, 1997). This is unlikely. The market and state bureaucracy reduce per se the scope of citizen participation. If institutions do not help, people tend to let go of politics, as shown by contemporary experience, despite the blooming of a democratic culture. Regardless of the claim, implicitly critical of Habermas' standpoint, about the possibility of inserting 'censors' of civil society within self-steered systems and of a tacit accommodation of Habermasian categories in a way such as to allow for greater autonomy and permeability of the political system, which would thus be only partly self-referred (Arato and Cohen, 1992: p. 479), civil society would make an external parallel to their effective decision-making centres.[6] Thus its institutions are not likely to thrive, at least permanently and widely. We are grappling with a doubtful attempt at a restoration of a 'bourgeois public sphere', so remarkably described by Habermas (1962), although in principle those authors look for a space of a different nature. In addition, one should ask about its integration with Habermas' (1981) dualistic evolutionary model - with its rigid division between self-steered systems and the life-world - which he does not actually discuss in his own contribution to a theory of civil society (Habermas, 1992). The limits of an external civil society appear also if those sorts of 'censors' try to tackle what Beck (1986: chapter 8) has called the 'sub-politics' of economic and scientific development, which run outside the political system. This does not of course detract from the need today of a universal democratic space, renewed and restructured, unless we are prepared to see 'democracy' degenerate into a caesarist and plebiscitary institution. But we need to ask what might in fact allow for a strengthening of the 'interstitial spaces' which Habermas (1990: p. 19; 1992: pp. 349 ff.) has more recently declared still to exist in opposition to the colonisation of the 'life world' by self-steered systems.

An interesting democratic experience in Brazil is furnished by the Participatory Budget as it has been implemented in the municipalities governed by the Workers' Party. This brings together citizens elected by communities and organizations in popular councils to discuss with the mayoralty how to make use of part of the resources available each year. This seems to be rather successful in terms of democratising political life and contributing to 'developmental democracy'.[7] But one should not exaggerate its effects, since the reach of those councils is too limited, it is unlikely that they could be projected to other levels of administration, especially nationally. One can also point to the same objections in relation to the Participatory Budget that were raised with respect to Habermas' model of civil society. In particular, once basic demands are met, would those councils resist privatism and individualism, as well as the power of capitalism in an unchanged social configuration? Moreover, that mechanism has been thought of as a way of increasing the distance between the private and the public sphere.

Another attempt at rethinking the polarisation between market and state has led to the identification of a 'non-governmental' and 'non-profit' oriented 'third sector'. It includes 'civil society', Non-Governmental Organizations (Egos), philanthropic initiatives and traditional forms of mutual help, being constituted by an 'ensemble of private initiatives with public meaning'. If there is growing emphasis on the importance of business philanthropy, the Egos furnish the core of the so-called 'third sector' in 'Latin'-America (Fernandes, 1994: especially pp. 22 ff., 126). They have a professionalised body of experts and their own interests, carrying out their own projects, with their own vision and persuasion (usually very modernising in a traditional way) and answering only to their financial supporters, whether government agencies or other, international egos. As bodies of (independently organised) experts capable of producing research and support to self-organised people who would be the target and the subjects of generative politics, the egos could be accommodated as a secondary element in the framework herein elaborated, notwithstanding the need to go beyond the questionable notion of a 'third sector'.

Giddens' discussion, although by and large implicit, can help break through that dichotomy (or 'trichotomy' - state-market-civil society/third sector): regardless of his superficial criticism plus dismissal of that notion of civil society (because of the threat of fundamentalism) and of his incomplete defence of the market as the exclusive signalling mechanism of the economy (Giddens, 1994: pp. 122 ff., 248), a new way of organising 'high modernity', in terms of funding, participation and responsibilities is projected. The state is, to a certain extent, dissolved into society, without this being merely representative or formative of public opinion; it becomes the custodian of social welfare and really the practical locus of solidarity. Politics, culture and the economy take on another meaning, depending directly on the engagement of citizens. 'Generative politics' conversely undergoes a shift of perspective: geared in principle to enabling people individually, it is transplanted to a collective dimension, ie. it must be implemented, connecting people in order that they do things together and, in so doing, take on responsibility for common problems and solutions, thereby overcoming the atomisation yielded by the Welfare State and the market. It is not the pre-eminence of the state in the face of a certain concomitant dilution of the private world, which would shrink to a sphere of intimacy, that is at steak here: Arendt's (1951: chapter 3) grave but warranted worries, pace the elitist presuppositions embedded in her formulations, need not be summoned. She was concerned with the danger of an absorption of society by a totalitarian state. In contrast, what is suggested here is its partial dissolution within networks of participatory social solidarity which might furnish the institutions for the very development of the active citizen; who has to show him or herself responsible for his or her well-being, and that of their collectivities. The totalitarianism feared by her - a danger enrooted in the structures of every modern state (Giddens, 1985) - hinges on a radical state organisation of modernity.

Here, on the contrary, citizenship and what might follow it would be closely articulated to modernity, which would be neither state-organised nor abandoned to the market and privatist, individualist familism. Without detriment to the role of the state in protective and generative politics, a reorganisation of modernity is proposed, which, from the political point of view, emulates the intermediary bodies which impressed de Tocqueville (1835) in the United States. Thereby we would perhaps have greater real hope of a revitalisation of social solidarity, which must nonetheless take on new forms and characteristics, through the establishment of a sphere which one might simply call social[8] (beyond Arendt's (1958) Aristotelianism, with its rigid separation of the public sphere as the realm of freedom from the private sphere of necessity, and Sennett's (1977) in fact backwards looking proposals). A disdifferentiation between state, market and society would therefore be on the cards, as well as a redifferentiation whose precise outline would be too far-fetched to suggest here.[9]

This social sphere should by no means be restricted to representation and debate, or to solidarity in a generic way. It ought rather be in charge of the execution of tasks left today to state and market, or captured by traditional types of relationship (familial, of neighbourhood, etc.) which are often not conducive to the autonomy of individuals and groups, insofar as they provide for greater control of individual and social practices (Giddens, 1991: pp. 112 ff.), although of course some of their features could be altered.[10] Overall, in any event, multiple collective subjectivities (Domingues, 1995a) must be placed at the heart of social solidarity. Thereby we can envision the overcoming of a rigid division, enrooted in the most general presuppositions of modern thought, between the private sphere - the realm of the individual - and the public sphere - the realm of society or the state.

The Return of Dialectics

The problems alluded to at the beginning are real enough; it is not good advice to negate them, by denying their reality after recognising their existence or dismissing them as unimportant, by being caught in the workings of a mechanism of psychological defence first pointed out by Freud, let alone their cognitive and moral blockage (Freud, 1925; see also Rouanet, 1985). A critical approach, whether we think of ourselves as postmodernists or not, should not look for palliative solutions either. If we look for real changes in the world, we must make use of those contradictions and dissatisfactions in the direction of a historically productive solution, dialectically drawing upon the destructive - and therefore simultaneously potentially regenerative - elements and impulses which psychic and social life offer (Lacan, 1959: pp. 251 ff.). Moments of crisis and ruptures are inevitable. It is not compulsory always to imagine acute conflicts steered by centred subjectivities and driven towards clearly defined goals, though. The accumulation of changes in the long duration in the intersection of daily life and history may end up being more productive and capable of generating long range transformations (cf. Prigogine and Stengers, 1979).

Dialectics has been regarded as a way of generating growth and progress through the use of contradictions. The tense - simultaneously destructive and constructive - contraposition of two poles which end up cannibalising and sublating one another, either in personal or in social life, has been at the core of dialectical thinking (Bodei, 1985). Eros and Tanathos feature prominently for instance in Psychoanalysis; master and slave or bourgeoisie and working-class have been the two major figures which have mobilised social imagination in this regard, in a variety of forms since Hegel. This was accompanied by the centring of the subject, to be accomplished for Marxism by the working class, which must get organised and sharply demarcated from the bourgeoisie in order to eliminate it and itself, recreating the totality of social life in a revolutionary stroke (even if this might take a whole historical period: socialism). However, to an extent this was also the underlying perspective of the English cooperative movement, which tried to generalise its practices with the decisive and concentrated help of the state at a certain stage, and has curiously lost strength henceforth (cf. Cole, 1953). Today, although new social movements have emerged, social exclusion and feelings of abandonment have often brought out a sort of violence, psychologically enrooted, that chooses its targets not according to transformative politics but to prejudice, entailing an aimless dialectics of aggressive self-expression (Honneth, 1992 and 1994).

If we think of dialectics as a manifold process (usually not a twofold opposition) which does not necessarily require a centring of the subject, it is made more adequate to the fluidity of contemporary life, and the struggles for identity and moral recognition can be heightened in a positive direction. Needs and desires, as well as the individuals and collectivities who possess and display them, may be welcome - rather than forlorn or rejected. Their destructive and hence potentially transformative energies can be harnessed to a dialectics of social development. But, lest someone suppose that a culturally-oriented, fragmented and localised resistance and alternative-building is all that is left for radical and left-wing forces today, it must be said that, although these decentred movements are bound to remain crucial for a transformative alternative, we should not entirely discard strategies centred directly on politics in a strict, state-oriented sense, in particular as to the struggle for a broader definition and practical accomplishment of universal citizenship. What Mann (1986: pp. 15 - 19) has called 'interstitial emergence' has fewer opportunities of success today without support from above, at least inasmuch as the main social movements are concerned, since the state has become far stronger than ever before (Giddens, 1985). The combination of a democratic programme geared towards enhancing citizenship with 'generative politics' can be instrumental to reach a mixed strategy of change pushed both from above and from below. Active citizenship may be the outcome of the management of social solidarity by individuals and groups through generative politics (in a sense a citizenship right) at the same time as it goes beyond properly defined citizenship, since individuals and collectivities break free from state regulation.[11] Generative politics, though certainly not a universal panacea, would work as a means of, within modernity, channelling the destructive energies ('drives', in a Psychoanalytic perspective) of society in a simultaneously constructive direction, whereby human restlessness can generate new forms of life and therefore a democratic way-out of modernity.

Citizenship has been fashioned by both social movements and state action. This is what one might imagine also in relation to an understanding of solidary generative politics. As collective subjectivities which at least to some extent intentionally aim at social change (Domingues, 1995a; 1997a), social movements and political parties would thus be the main agents of such a strategy. Nonetheless, other collective subjectivities would have a role to play in this process as well: those who, by making use of resources made available by that programme, would in practice hopefully lay the seeds of new forms of life, whether they intend to live differently or not, since one does not need to be committed to social change in order to help bring it about unintentionally. A broadly based, not necessarily too conflict-ridden and open-ended dialectics might derive from that.

Social creativity is inescapably at stake. Willy-nilly, intentionally or unintentionally, its workings will necessarily push us possibly away from modernity and capitalism, onto new paths, which may agree with our normative expectations or not, bringing about changes in the concrete processes and mechanisms and in the direction of social evolution (cf. Domingues, 1997a; forthcoming). If there is no inevitability in the evolutionary development of history, it is incumbent upon us to shape, however partially, the contingent outcome of present social changes.


1 Three principles have underpinned social policies: (1) citizenship rights, (2) rights according to contribution or (3) alleviation of poverty and the meeting of basic needs; whilst the last one tends to decline (or at least it did) in Europe, those societies, starting with one of those two former principles, evolved towards a mix of them both. Cf. Ware and Goodin (1990), and particularly Palme (1990: pp. 106 - 7).

2 The exception here is Singer (1995; 1996).

3 This holds true, for instance, as regards public health, with Giddens (1994) dangerously nearing World Bank policies, which recommend only a basic public service for the poor. It would restrict the offer of treatment of heart diseases, cancer, etc; social policies, in the face of macroeconomic adjustments would have an eminently compensatory character (see Melo and Costa, 1994). We can indeed acquiesce to criticisms of healing medicine and of huge expenditure, perhaps not always effective, of the health systems of the Welfare State (and of the market too) provided it does not compromise the principle of citizenship and universal cover (see Jänicke, 1986: pp. 41 ff). Regrettable is the tendency that surfaces in Giddens (and seemingly in 'New Labour') to accept the conservative refusal of the rationalism of the Social-Democratic tradition which acknowledges the limitations of individual action to deal with socially created contingencies (see Parry, 1990: p. 141). Giddens is correct as to the impossibility of sustaining such a pervasive model, but goes way beyond reasonableness in this regard. Hutton's (1997) traditional support of Welfare-State policies aimed at helping individuals out of disasters such as unemployment - hardly something produced individually, although generated socially - is much closer to a universalist solution. Even Beck (1986: chapters 2, 6) is more careful in this regard, stressing the centrality of (increasingly unstable) labour markets.

4 See the presentation of the programme in Peliano et al (1994). However, the policy it proposes and executed by the National Bank for Social Development (BNDES), establishing a popular credit line, is one aspect of World Bank policies that has an interesting 'generative' outlook, although from an individualistic angle.

5 For a complete balance of the Brazilian social situation, see the document presented to the World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen (Cohn, 1995) (also available in English).

6 Avritzer's (1997a: p. 89) and Lynch's (1997: p. 128) recognition of networks of 'self-help movements' in civil society in 'Latin'-America to an extent departs from that pristine conceptual definition; if radicalised, however, it cannot be accommodated within that framework.

7 The main academic, though also politically engaging, piece on the topic thus far is Fedozzi (1997). See also Laranjeira (1996) for a critical assessment. Avritzer's (1997b) model for the institutionalisation of civil society is interesting, but seems also insufficient to offer a solution to similar weaknesses.

8 Neither market nor hierarchy are the mechanism of coordination here, but network. See Domingues (1996) for a discussion of these categories as regards the economy.

9 See Domingues (forthcoming) for a discussion on differentiation.

10 In any event, 'primary' networks do not appear to be capable of coping with the demands which they would confront, should a reorganization of modernity be too dependent upon them. For a case study of Portugal, where those networks retain some importance, see Nunes (1995).

11 Moving in a direction such as originally suggested by Turner (1993: p. 14).


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