Alexandre da Trindade e Oliveira

I am a Brazilian doctoral student at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. My research examines the role of higher education which goes beyond the traditional functions of teaching and research. I am particularly interested in how universities engage with communities, social movements and other sectors of society, contributing to the development of alternative futures (human flourishing), social justice, democratic societies and emancipated individuals. In this academic journey, I have a particular motivation to explore dialogical and ethnographic approaches and the philosophy of critical realism. I have a degree in marketing, where for 20 years, I worked mainly with technology and innovation projects.

I have a special interest in engaging with networks such as the National Association of Graduate Studies and Research in Education (Anped); Culture, Politics and Global Justice (CPGJ) research cluster; Center for Global Higher Education (CGHE); Faculty of Education Research Students’ Association (FERSA); Cambridge Educational Dialogue Research (CEDiR); Cambridge Global Challenges (CGC); Cambridge University Brazilian Society (CUBS).

My Research

Nearly a hundred years ago, Gramsci (1891-1937; 1971) argued that educational systems can play a contradictory societal role. On the one hand, they serve to maintain the status quo and replicate societal systems that perpetuate hegemonies. On the other hand, they contribute to society by forming conscientious and emancipated individuals capable of promoting profound social change. Drawing on Gramsci’s ideas, and recognizing this dual function, my research analyses the role and impact of universities in society. I am particularly interested in the role that extends beyond the functions of research and teaching and aims to contribute to societal transformation. Therefore, my study aims to offer new ideas about universities and their potential role (occasionally classified as a third mission) in supporting transitions to achieve a better future for all (human flourishing). 

My research focuses on specific universities in Brazil, a country with complex historical and current issues. The Brazilian context add challenges both to the scope of transitions, as well as to what universities can do to promote these changes. To address this topic, I rely on questions in three analytical areas. First, questions that explore concepts and theories, such as those developed by Santos (2003) and Escobar (1995), to understand (i) how an alternative future (real utopia) may be possible and (ii) what barriers must be overcome to achieve it. Second, I focus on universities as actors in these transformational processes, examining (i) the challenges and dilemmas in which universities are immersed that may justify their interest (or not) in taking on a mission in this regard; and (ii) how they understand, negotiate, and mediate this role. Finally, I question transitions, human flourishing and the mission of universities in the challenging Brazilian context. 

Taking into account Freire’s (1987) argument that educational systems are not neutral and have ideological dimensions, it is of paramount importance in my study to critically question the interests, influences, conditions and mechanisms that determine what universities do in order to be able to explain what purpose they serve and what they can potentially achieve. In my study, I approach critical sociology with an emancipatory interest (Habermas, 1972) in order to reach relevant conclusions and contributions in this field of knowledge. It is a research that applies the lenses of critical realism, mixed methods and critical ethnographic research through analysis of multiple case studies and application of extended case method (Burawoy, 1998) and dialogic techniques.


Burawoy, M. (1998) ‘The Extended Case Method’, Sociological Theory, 16(1), pp. 4–33. doi: 10.1111/0735-2751.00040.

Escobar, A. (1995). Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Freire, P. (1987) Pedagogia do Oprimido. 23rd edn. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra (Coleção O Mundo, Hoje).

Gramsci, A. 1891-1937. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York :International Publishers,

Santos, B. de S. (2003) ‘The World Social Forum: Toward a Counter-Hegemonic Globalization (Part I)’, in. XXIV International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Dallas, USA, p. 11. Available at:

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