Confronting Social Inequalities: Perspectives on wealth and power

At the close of the first two decades of the 21st century, Latin America remains the most unequal region in the world: a multidimensional and intersectional inequality that is expressed by the pronounced asymmetry in the distribution, access and consumption of material resources, as well as the concentration of land, income and wealth. In recent decades, both in research as in policy management, the focus has been on poverty, neglecting that inequality is a relational category and that therefore poverty is incomprehensible in isolation without its counterpart: wealth. To counterbalance this asymmetry, CALAS research cluster “Confronting Inequalities in Latin America” will dedicate a knowledge laboratory to enhancing new perspectives on the relationship between wealth and power in Latin America.

Hitherto comprehensive and systemic research and academic production that accounts for the mechanisms that ensure accumulation and wealth, the relationships and structural arrangements that perpetuate them and their cultural and symbolic configurations remain insufficient. The main objective of this laboratory is to place "wealth", "elites" and "power" at the core of the academic and political debate in the region, and to take a position on more lasting, sustainable and certain transformations that will subvert the current dispositions and arrangements of inequalities in Latin America. With such an effort, we intend to contribute, with three research axes and a creative area, to a more active discussion in the studies of wealth, from theoretical-conceptual-methodological and empirical positions.


Axis 1. Regulation and deregulation of wealth

One working premise is condensed in a first axis "Regulation and deregulation of wealth", which addresses the issues of concentration of wealth and inefficiency of tax systems in the region. This configuration not only has strong economic impacts, but it is transverse in the relationship between State & Society and State & Politics and influences the discourses, the political culture and the democratic legitimacy in the region. Therefore, in terms of social inequality, it is not so much relevant to the issue of property taxes, but its coherent management and design. As a result, a tax reform should be one of the main challenges that all countries of the American subcontinent have to face. Consequently, axis 1 proposes an interdisciplinary approach to the processes of regulation and deregulation of wealth in Latin America, and to this end, focuses on the way in which tax systems, tax cultures, political processes related to taxation, as well as the different discourses on tax justice and inequalities, have been historically configured.


Axis 2. Study of wealth and elites

Although the subject of poverty has been studied from almost all its facets, there is almost no research on the wealthy, albeit in the last decade there has been a growing scientific interest in elites. The second axis of the laboratory titled "Study of wealth and elites", aims to position itself in these absences and tendencies. The interest is not only to promote research that enters the world of the economic elites, the social constraints that favor their reproduction, their formal and informal intra-elite networks, and their repertoires of action; but also to situate them analytically in the cultural component and the orientations of elite values, which distill an elitist habitus and a social status that is materialized in elevated distances - structural and symbolic - within Latin American societies. As a complement, it also seeks to promote the production of updated knowledge on the configurations of a political economy of wealth in the region, power relations and the social reproduction of the region's richest.


Axis 3. Wealth, power and nature

This approach is intertwined with the proposal of the third axis of study: "Wealth, power and nature". The representatives of wealth weave their networks not only in the economic field but also articulate themselves in terms of the exercise of power in the field of political influence to guarantee their economic and financial interests. The multipositionality of the elites in the flow of transactions between politics and the economy condemns many Latin American nations to a "Shadow State". The analytical framework that has become commonplace overflows technical approaches that neglect more relational views. This limitation demands innovative conceptual knots and perspectives that not only reconnect these dimensions, but also position them in a discussion between wealth, power, and nature. The constellation of historical social inequalities, political logics, and the extractive tradition are combined in the region in pensions as a form of income. Through these mechanisms, a diversity of manifestations of power and a specific institutional-political logic are forged, with which the practices of exploitation of raw materials are consolidated, the redistribution of income, wealth, and land is blocked, and alternative forms of development are marginalized.


Creative Area "Researching wealth, power and nature: convergences and divergences between Social Sciences and Humanities (ConDiv)

The diverse range of approaches and perspectives, thematic axes and lines of analysis proposed by Laboratory, entails the great challenge of articulating diverse areas of knowledge and disciplines. The main objective of CALAS, which focuses on generating a reflection in, on and from Latin America from a transdisciplinary perspective, demands for a reflection not only on analytical alliances for the generation of knowledge but also on the conflicts and divergences between the social sciences and the humanities. The Knowledge Laboratory has designated a particular space to give rise to this debate with the Creative Area "Investigating Wealth, Power and Nature: Convergences and Divergences between the Social Sciences and the Humanities (ConDiv)". ConDiv is an integrated part of the Laboratory, articulating itself as a methodological interface between the Laboratory and the transversal axis of CALAS "Theorizing Crises". It uses wealth, power and nature as the thematic body of research. The objective is to elaborate the differences between the conceptualizations and methodologies contributed by the humanities on the one hand and the social sciences on the other. For this purpose, ConDiv projects its work along the three axes of the Laboratory, focusing on a reflection that intertwines the plane of discursive patterns with the production of ideas. To this end, it focuses on discourse analysis (written, oral and multimodal discourses), crossing the trajectories of knowledge with which wealth, power and inequalities are addressed.


Inequalities in the context of pandemic

The central theme of the Laboratory, to study inequalities, has become extremely complex with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the year 2020. It is a collective responsibility, at the political, economic and social levels, of the group of coordinators of the laboratory in particular and the CALAS team in general, to address the impacts of COVID-19 in the region. With this in mind, the laboratory is conducting a study of the impact of COVID-19 on the multiple inequalities in the region, which starts from the very beginning of the laboratory, and that will report on the complexities that the scourge of the pandemic represents for Latin America.

This compendium of axes, approaches and focal points of analysis of the Laboratory "Confronting inequalities in Latin America: perspectives on wealth and power" offers an intense scientific activity, interlacing disciplines and knowledge. The activities begin in January 2021 and will be in session for 18 months. The dynamics of the laboratory encompasses the realization of several platforms, conferences and congresses to foster exchange, not only among the fellows associated with the three axes of research, but also with broader academic spaces, actors and social and political organizations within Latin America, but also those who study inequalities in other regions of the world.