Two Good Teachers

Posted on | december 30, 2011 | No Comments


The untimely death of two scholars, Alex Fernandes-Jilberto and Peter Mair who played a pivotal role in my development as a political scientist once again underscores the importance of good education, of teachers with an aptness to inspire. Alex believed in my work, in my ability to become a good scholar. He encouraged me not to settle for mediocrity but to look beyond the charted paths to further my education. Alex knowledge on Latin-America was phenomenal, and his publication on Latin America impressive. Peter Mair was a great teacher, who in the early years helped instill key-conceptions and principles on political sociology. Peter was able to break down complex and complicate issues into bit and bite-size pieces.

Both scholars however taught me to think outside of the “box”, to work on the development of new conceptions and ideas, instead of citing and re-citing, to seek out primary sources and to chart unfamiliar territory.

Both gentlemen very unfamiliar with the political intricacies of a small country on the north side of the Atlantic, knew however very well what it means to pioneer, and encouraged me to research the political system of Suriname by looking for primary sources, to develop new theories and approaches.

It was however their teaching methods that inspired me to develop new teaching methods, again outside the box. Alex and avid socialist and lover of Marxist theories would be thrilled that students of social sciences should be encouraged to actually read Marx. Peter Mair would be thrilled with the idea that students need to learn how to conceptualize and approach phenomena. His work on political systems in Italy that before seemed confined to the Italian reality today hold value in most of Europe.Populism, voter inertia, weak leadership and electoral systems all relevant subjects when assessing so called transitional societies. The fact that societies such as Italy today have more in common with transitional democracies such as Colombia, Peru, Romania and Argentina has to do with the fact that democracy is a dynamic process. Democracies oscillate, between an optimum high and an optimum low, between a polyarchy and autocracy. European societies have consistently harbored the notion that democracy was a static conception, a conception intrinsically tied to the Western/ Capitalist value system.

Recent developments in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean demonstrate that in some nations democracy has become the only game in town, that the fortification of institutions has become a continuous process, the transformation of the political landscape from a monolithic bulwark into a broad-based, varied political system. The political transformation in the developing world has started amidst the chaos of the 1980s, when Chile and Uruguay got rid of dictatorial regimes by consolidating various arenas in a joint effort to re-institutionalize. Limited knowledge on elite negotiation and leadership in Latin America hampered assessing political systems. Alex Fernandes Jilberto was one of the first scholars to write on the fallacies of the Left in Latin America, the fact that the Left had overplayed their hands in societies such as El Salvador and Nicaragua. The assessment of the Left, the fact that they failed to transform the social system, to create a more verdant and just social system has prompted other scholars on the continent to re-think the way social sciences looks at Latin American societies. Alex Fernandes Jilberto encouraged me to read F.H. Cardoso, seminal social scientist and former president of Brazil. He also encouraged me to look beyond the platitudes so typical of Weberian antimonies, rich-poor, backward-developed, used to assess developing societies.

“Desi Bouterse was not a clown, but a political phenomenon in and out of itself, a political phenomenon that needed researching using credible political science theory”. “Hugo Chaves is not a story teller but a real danger to Venezuelan democracy”. “The environment is not only about watering plants, but about policies that are weak because Rio and thereafter will all about weak-kneed covenants”. Alex Fernandes Jilberto was a firm believer that research on Latin America and the Caribbean needed more substance.

“Think of me as Micheal Jackson now, I am the teacher here” said Peter. We hollered, yes Peter was the Micheal Jackson of Political Sociology, the teacher who best could explain the complex German voting system and the complicated and corrupt Italian Political System.

The untimely death of both scholars is unfortunate, specifically now, when the Academia, specifically the social sciences screams for innovation, for new and fresh talent.

Thank you, Alex Fernandes Jilberto and Thank You, Peter Mair!

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@]


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