Spring 2016 Alum Interview: Joao Feres Junior

Interview with Joao Feres Junior, Ph.D. in Political Science at the Graduate Center, 2003. Currently Professor at IESP-UERJ (http://www.iesp.uerj.br/welcome-to-iesp-uerj/#)
By Andre Guzzi
A: After the completion of your Ph.D, how did you proceed with your career?
J: After seven and a half years of Ph.D., I moved back to Brazil, where I am originally from, and got a post-doc position at one of the most prestigious Political Science programs in the country, IESP-UERJ, formerly known as IUPERJ. After the post-doc, I was hired as a professor and have been working there since then. IESP-UERJ is research focused graduate studies institution. I am a political theory major but since I started working as a professor my research interests spread to other areas such as race and affirmative action, and media and politics. Besides publishing extensively on these topics, I have been very active in the public debate about affirmative action in Brazil since the early 2000s and more recently I have set up a media watch website, Manchetometro, that became very popular in the last presidential elections.
A: With regards to affirmative action to black people, in a nutshell, what are the main differences and similarities between Brazil and the United States?
J: Well, race is understood and lived as a reality differently in either country. In the United States, race has been culturalized, so perceptions of racial difference are tied with perceptions of cultural difference and vice-versa. In Brazil that is not always the case. There are pure forms of racial prejudice and discrimination that are not always tied to perceptions of cultural difference. In other words, being non-white improves the likelihood of one being discriminated against, regardless of his or her cultural habits. Despite this difference, these are both post-colonial countries, with similar historical paths, in which race-based affirmative action has the goal of promoting the status and opportunities of non-whites, blacks mostly, who have been targeted by continued discrimination and prejudice.
A: How was the process of moving back to your home country after having lived in the United States for so long?
J: I was very well adapted to live in the US, in New York City, really. But I did wanted to return to Brazil. I was very enthusiastic with the political moment the country was going through (beginning of President Lula’s first mandate), which was roughly the opposite of what the current situation in which the reactionary forces of Brazilian society and political system once again gathered enough strength to threaten the country’s democratic institutions.
A: What was the topic of your dissertation?
J: My dissertation is epistemologically a crossover between political theory and comparative politics. It is entitled The concept of Latin America in the United States: misrecognition and social scientific discourse, and explores the ways in which Americans, particularly the social sciences, have perceived Latin America through narratives and theories, such as modernization, political development, dependency, etc. I have found out that Latin Americans are consistently perceived as others, be it in cultural, racial and temporal terms, both in everyday language accounts and in social scientific discourses. My dissertation was published as a book in four different languages (Portuguese, English, Spanish, and French).
A: What are the best memories you have from your period as a Ph.D. student at the Graduate Center?
J: I very much enjoyed the cooperative environment of CUNY Poli Sci program. In other universities you may experience a lot of competition among students, something that can be harmful and counter-productive. This was never the case at the Graduate Center. I made a lot of friends in the program, some of whom I am still in touch.