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Biographies Fernando Henrique Cardoso

2012 Kluge Prize Winner

Fernando Henrique Cardoso is one of the leading scholars and practitioners of political economy in recent Latin American history. His scholarly analysis of the social structures of government, the economy, and race relations in Brazil laid the intellectual groundwork for his leadership as president in the transformation of Brazil from a military dictatorship with high inflation into a vibrant, more inclusive democracy with strong economic growth. A scholar of enormous intellectual energy, he has written or co-authored more than 23 scholarly books and 116 scholarly articles, with versions of each produced for a wider public.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, sociologist, politician, and president of Brazil from 1994 to 2002, was born in Rio de Janeiro. He received his doctorate from the University of Sao Paulo, where he began his career as a sociology professor and opponent of Brazil’s military dictators. His first academic books, written in the 1950s, highlighted the lingering prejudices, inequality, and injustices in Brazilian society. His studies of the relations between races and classes moved to the study of the structures that conditioned them.

Cardoso’s calls for a conceptual rethinking of economic growth, inequality, poverty, and class differences led to his living in exile from 1964 to 1968, working at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America. Upon his return to Brazil, the government suspended his civil rights, and he was banned from teaching. His focus then shifted from economics and the structure of society to politics: how to restore democracy to Brazil and provide better opportunities for all. He built a non-government center of social research, The Brazilian Center of Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP), and collaborated with democratic organizations to expose the stark disparity between the impoverished lives of so many Brazilians and the high rates of economic development in the country.

During the 1980s, Cardoso was elected to the Senate representing the state of Sao Paulo and became one of the founders of Brazil’s centrist Social Democratic Party. Known as an inflation-fighting supporter of free market reforms, Cardoso was appointed economy minister of Brazil in 1993. In 1994, he was elected president, and re-elected in 1998. Using the research and scholarship from his earlier career, he instituted universal access to basic public education, strengthened a universal public health system, expanded access to land for those who needed it, and instituted a system of direct cash transfers to the poorest families to reduce poverty and inequality. Brazil grew to become the world’s sixth-largest economy, an energy giant with a booming manufacturing sector and a growing middle class.

Cardoso’s career epitomizes the link between academic practice and real-world action. His academic training equipped him to promote change and discredit myths, expose truths, and create a government that better serves society. Cardoso has been a visiting professor at various academic centers in Europe and the United States, including the College de France, the University of Paris, the University of Cambridge, the University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford University. In 2003-2004, Cardoso was a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at The John W. Kluge Center.

Why Awarded

Fernando Henrique Cardoso epitomizes how deep empirical scholarship can produce real political and economic changes for society’s betterment. Trained as a sociologist, Cardoso eventually became the 34th president of Brazil. During his presidency, he instituted policies that followed the logic of his earlier scholarship, tackling inflation, opening up the country to global markets, and instituting social programs to address poverty, lack of education, and racial inequality. His leadership transformed Brazil from an underdeveloped country on the periphery of the global economy into the world’s sixth-largest economy.


“President Cardoso has been the kind of modern scholar who combines deep study with respect for empirical evidence. His fundamental aspiration is to seek out the truth about society as it can best be determined, while remaining open to revisiting conclusions as new evidence accumulates whether from a more probing analysis or from changing political and economic realities. He has used and embodied many different aspects of the modern social sciences, and kept a humanitarian perspective.”
—Librarian of Congress James H. Billington


Fernando Henrique Cardoso

The Sociologist Who Became President

Kluge Prize Recipient 2012

Quick Facts

Born: 1931, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil



  • Professor, University of São Paulo
  • Founder, Brazilian Centre for Analysis and Planning
  • Senator, São Paulo, Brazil

    Finance Minister, Brazil

  • President, Brazil

Ceremony Links

July 10, 2012

Acceptance Speech | Full Text

“Crossroads”: A Brief Autobiography

Cardoso Awarded Kluge Prize (May 14, 2012)

Selected Publications


Selected Works at the Library of Congress


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