David Lundie on Boaventura de Sousa Santos for Global Social Theory 
Boaventura de Sousa Santos, David Lundie
Global Social Theory

Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ greatest contribution to social theory is in recognising plural epistemologies, systems and ways of knowing. Graduating in Law from the University of his home town of Coimbra, Portugal, Santos’s work straddles Law and Sociology. His work among favela dwellers in Rio de Janeiro, the subject of his 1978 Law of the Oppressed explores the alternative approaches to dispute resolution that operate among the residents, in official legal circles, and in the interactions between them.

Turning his attention to the effects of globalization, Santos theorises a conflict between ‘rights to options’, crossing borders and softening the influence of nationalisms and ideologies, and localising movements asserting the pre-eminence of ‘rights to roots’. Giving attention to these localising and particular ways of knowing challenges ‘hegemonic globalization’ narratives, which tend to favour Western perspectives. Santos characterizes Western European epistemologies as ‘abyssal’, in that they make a sharp distinction between their own way of thinking, presented as correct, and all others, such that other ways of knowing cannot find recognition or be present in the production of knowledge.

Santos’s Personal Website

Essential Readings:

Further Readings:


  • How does Santos conceptualise the relationship between plural epistemologies?
  • What, for Santos, are the effects of globalisation on the possibilities of and for knowledge production?
  • Why does Santos characterize Western European epistemologies as ‘abyssal’?

Submitted by David Lundie

Original Contents by Global Social Theory