Environmental crises and natural disasters are regarded as central catalysts of social change in Latin America. The subcontinent suffers from the cyclically recurring impact of the El Niño phenomenon (responsible for droughts, heavy rain, and hurricanes) and is located in a tectonically active zone. Moreover, the relationship with nature since the colonial period has mainly been extraction-oriented leading to regular human-induced environmental crises and related socio-environmental conflicts. The drastically-intensifying exploitation of natural resources in the region to meet the growing global hunger for commodities has long ceased to be a purely economic strategy. Instead, constructive debates about ‘neo-extractivism’ in Latin America are markers for the ongoing evolution of a new, comprehensive system for social regulation, which has profound effects on society, politics, and the environment, and which is gaining relevance for other regions of the ‘Global South’.
The research group exploring socio-environmental transformation will focus primarily on
a) the current and historical dynamics of extractivist models,
b) political and social strategies of adaptation and forms of resilience vis-á-vis increasing environmental problems, and
c) innovative proposals supporting a fundamental change of human-environment interactions (from the establishment of protected areas to the current post-growth debate around the concept of Buen Vivir). The analyses are based on the premise that “natural” disasters – characterized by suddenness and unexpectedness – often either expose or strengthen socio-political, and socio-economic problems, which, in many cases, evolved historically over long periods of time. On this basis, the research will explore the political and cultural foundations of the conceptualization of the environment and nature, their cultural and socio-economic consequences, and alternative proposals.