Confronting Social Inequality

Extreme social inequality is a central, historically persistent, and socio-politically formative systemic feature and source of manifold conflicts in Latin America. It has increasingly become the focus of research and politics in regards to social policies on poverty relief, transnational entanglements, as well as its effect on economic growth, social development, and socio-environmental adaptation. Three key issues are at the core of this interdisciplinary research group:

a) Representation of Social Inequality and Social Coping Strategies

This focus aims to explore the paradoxical situation found in Latin America where extreme inequalities within societies are perceived as problematic and yet, this realization has failed to lead to any political mandate for a consistent or lasting reduction of inequality. The subjective and collective perceptions of social inequalities need to be analyzed along the lines of class, race, and gender, along with their attendant social and cultural strategies to address these inequalities through legitimization, adaptation, coping, scandalization and dismantlement.

b) Social inequalities and Elites

 This focus examines the role social elites play in the historical persistence of social inequalities and power asymmetries. It will attempt to explain how elites may provide incentives for, but also hinder or even prevent social change that supports redistribution – even in times of crisis. At the same time, this research focus will explore the habitual patterns and interpretations of social inequalities that lead elites to discourage policies that promote greater social cohesion and internal market development, even if these policies lead to an increase in their own expected earnings.

c) Inequalities and Socio-environmental Transformation

 An adequate understanding of inequality must take into consideration the socio-environmental dimensions of the problem along with its material aspects and factors concerning identity. Pollution and climate change often reinforce and solidify existing inequalities, as the more recent commodity-based development paths of the region (‘neo-extractivism’) demonstrate. In cooperation with the research group "Coping with environmental crises," this group will seek to integrate the category “nature” into inequality-related research in the social sciences.