Getting Rights Right

This period focus on a simple yet seemingly intractable paradox – Why does Portugal, the country with the highest degree of social rights constitutionalization in the world, and approaching the European Union average on social expenditure, remain one of the most unequal in the OECD, just behind Mexico and Turkey? This is the puzzle he wishes to solve in the next few years with Mónica Brito Vieira and Pedro Ramos Pinto.

In his historical studies of the political roots of American philosophical pragmatism, Carreira da Silva has tried to show the extent to which the classical republican critique of modern liberal conceptions of state sovereignty has survived in the idiom of American pragmatists such as G.H. Mead and especially John Dewey. First in his 2002 book Virtue and Democracy: A Study in Republican Ideas (originally published in Portuguese; translated to Spanish in 2009), and later in his 2008 “Bringing Republican Ideas Back Home: The Dewey-Laski Connection” (History of European Ideas, 35), he explored the tension between (republican) virtues and (liberal) rights from the perspective of the pragmatist non-dualistic, radical democratic political philosophy. This historical survey into virtues and rights has provided Carreira da Silva with the basic template for the neo-pragmatist social theory of rights he is currently trying to develop.

Rights are to be conceived of as neither a priori idealist elements, based upon a universal conception of human nature, nor simply as social constructs. Rather, he conceives of human rights as socially constituted political objects, which constrain political action as much as they enable it. From their emergence as collectively imagined political objects, focus of intense political struggle and competition, rights rapidly become – usually through constitutionalization – valuable liberties, entitlements and guarantees that legitimate political authorities distribute, guarantee or deny. His historical and theoretical research on rights has been awarded substantial funding in competitive applications.

He is currently the Principal Investigator of a research team that was awarded a 100.000 Euros research grant to study the causes and consequences of social rights constitutionalization: “Broken Promises. The Political Origins of Socioeconomic Inequality in Portugal, 1960-2010” (PTDC/CPJ-CPO/101290/2008). He began working on this project in Jerusalem in the summer of 2009 with S.N. Eisenstadt, first presented it in the Minda de Gunzburg Center at Harvard later that year, and the first findings was published in book form in 2010 as The Constituent Moment (originally in Portuguese, with Mónica Brito Vieira). In 2011, Carreira da Silva supervised the Portuguese translation of Eisenstadt’s The Great Revolutions and the Civilizations of Modernity, whose comparative historical approach to rights and revolutions has impacted his thinking substantially.

The latest finding of this project is a survey on Portuguese social welfare attitudes. The fieldwork took place in April 2013 and its preliminary findings are available in "O QUE PENSAM OS PORTUGUESES SOBRE O ESTADO SOCIAL?" 

Other institutions studying this topic:


  • 2016. Justiça e Equidade. In 40 Anos de Políticas de Justiça em Portugal. Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues, Nuno Garoupa, Pedro Magalhães, Alexandra Leitão, Conceição Gomes (eds). Coimbra: Almedina. With Mónica Brito Vieira. [document (pdf)]
  • 2016. Waiting for Godot? Welfare Attitudes in Portugal Before and After the Financial Crisis. Political Studies. With Mónica Brito Vieira and Cicero Pereira. [online[document (pdf)]
  • 2016. Direitos Sociais na Constituição. Uma Análise da Constitucionalização dos Direitos Sociais em Portugal, 1975-76. Relações Internacionais 49. With Mónica Brito Vieira. [online[document (pdf)]
  • 2015. Sophie’s Choice: Social Attitudes to Welfare State Retrenchment in Bailed-Out Portugal. European Societies 17(3): 351-371. With Laura Valadez. [online[document (pdf)]
  • 2013. Outline of a Social Theory of Rights. A Neo-Pragmatist Approach. European Journal of Social Theory 16(4). [online]
  • 2013. Getting Rights Right. Explaining Social Rights Constitutionalization in Revolutionary Portugal. I*CON. International Journal of Constitutional Law. With Mónica Brito Vieira. [online]
  • 2013. Democracia Deliberativa Hoje. Desafios e Perspectivas. Revista Brasileira de Ciência Política 10. With Mónica Brito Vieira.  [online]
  • 2012. Vieira, M.B. and Pinto, P.R. Understanding the New Politics of Welfare Reform. Political Studies. [online] [document (pdf)]
  • 2012. Direitos Iguais, Vidas Desiguais. As Atitudes dos Portugueses sobre Desigualdade. Barómetro da Qualidade da Democracia, ICS-UL. With Mónica Brito Vieira and Susana Cabaço. [document (pdf)] As reported in Público (05-02-2012).
  • 2010. “Democracia Deliberativa. Reflexões sobre o Percurso Recente de uma Ideia.” In José Manuel Viegas (org.), A Qualidade da Democracia em Debate. Deliberação, Representação e Participação Políticas em Portugal e Espanha. Lisboa: Mundos Sociais.
  • 2009. “Plural Modernity. Changing Modern Institutional Forms: Disciplines and Nation-states.” Social Analysis. The International Journal of Cultural and Social Practice 53 (2). With Mónica Brito Vieira.
  • 2009. "Metamorfoses do Estado. Portugal e a Emergência do Estado Neo-social." In Renato Miguel do Carmo and João Rodrigues (eds.), Onde Pára o Estado? Políticas Públicas em Tempo de Crise. Lisboa: Edições Nelson de Matos: 19-51.


  • 2013. O Futuro do Estado Social. Lisboa: FFMS. (colecção Ensaios)
  • 2013. Os Portugueses e o Estado Providência. Lisboa: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais (colecção Atitudes Sociais dos Portugueses). Editor and introduction.
  • 2011. Eisenstadt, S.N. As Grandes Revoluções e as Civilizações da Modernidade. Lisboa: Edições 70. Editor and introduction. Translation by Marta Castelo Branco. [online]
  • 2010. O Momento Constituinte. Os Direitos Sociais na Constituição. Coimbra: Almedina. With Mónica Brito Vieira. [online] 

Other publications

  • 2013. Modernization. In Encyclopedia of Modern Political Thought. G. Claeys (ed.), Washington, DC: CQ Press.
  • 2012. Quo vadis, Europa? In Estados, Regimes e Revoluções. Estudos em Homenagem a Manuel de Lucena. Carlos Gaspar et al. (eds). Lisboa: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais, pp. 387-404. With Mónica Brito Vieira. [document (pdf)] 

Conferences and Workshops

  • 2013. 7th ECPR General Conference, Sciences Po, Bordeaux, France 4-7 September. Panel organized: "Crisis and Welfare Retrenchment".  
  • 2012. First European Pragmatism Conference, University of Rome, Italy 19-21 September. Paper presented: Outline of a Social Theory of Rights. A Neo-Pragmatist Approach. Conference programme outline available in here “programme outline”.
  • 2011. ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops, St. Gallen, Switzerland 12-16 April. Co-organizer (with Mónica Brito Vieira and Pedro Ramos Pinto) of the workshop: “Redistribution Paradoxes: the Politics of Welfare”.
  • 2010. European Sociological Association, Social Theory Conference (RN29) "Controversies in Contexts", held in Prague, Czech Republic, 9-11 September. Paper presented: “Social theory and citizenship - debates on modernity, the state and citizenship”.
  • 2010. XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology, Gothenburg, Sweden, 11-17 July. Paper presented: “Why Social Rights? On a Social Constructivist Theory of Human Rights”.
  • 2009. Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 20 November, Iberian Study Group. Paper presented: “Why Social Rights? The Portuguese Process of Constitutionalization of Social and Economic Rights.”