Confronting Social Inequality

Extreme social inequalities are a central, historically persistent, and socio-politically formative systemic feature and source of manifold conflicts in Latin America. They have increasingly become the focus of research and politics in recent years, especially with respect to social policies on poverty relief and transnational entanglements. Increasingly, however, it is understood that inequalities also hinder 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:

The focus here is aimed at the exploration of the paradoxical situation that in Latin America extreme inequalities within societies are perceived as problematic, yet, this realization remains without achieving a political mandate for consistent or lasting reduction of inequality. The subjective and collective perceptions of social inequalities need to be captured along the axis of class, race, and gender with their associated social and cultural strategies of legitimization, adaptation, coping, scandalization and / or how they are overcome.

b) Social inequalities and Elites. This focus examines the role social elites play in the historical persistence of social inequalities and asymmetries of power. It will attempt to explain how elites may provide impulses for, but also hinder or even prevent social change in favor of redistribution – even in times of crisis. At the same time, this research focus will explore the habitual patterns and interpretations, which prevent elites from supporting policies for greater social coherence and internal market development, even if this were to increase their 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", the integration of the category “nature” into (inequality related) research in social sciences will be pursued.