Confronting Inequalities in Latin America: Perspectives on Wealth and Power

After the first two decades of the 21st century, Latin America still exhibits a severe asymmetry in the distribution, access and consumption of wealth. The concentration of land, income and wealth reflects a historically persistent, multidimensional, and intersectional inequality. In recent decades, both in studies and politics, the focuses have been on poverty without acknowledging that inequality is a relational category. Therefore, poverty is incomprehensible without its counterpart: wealth. The conceptual core of the Laboratory of Knowledge "Confronting Inequalities in Latin America: Perspectives on Wealth and Power" focuses on this other side of the coin.

There is still not sufficient research on the mechanisms ensuring accumulation and wealth, the relationships and structural arrangements that perpetuate them, and their cultural and symbolic configurations. In this spirit, Laboratory 2 pursues the core objective of placing "wealth", "elites" and "power" at the centre of the region's academic and political debate. By promoting a comprehensive and systemic academic production, it aims to achieve positions for more permanent, sustainable and accurate transformations. These are geared towards undermining the current dispositions and arrangements of inequality in Latin America. Through three research areas and a transversal creative space, this commitment aims to make theoretical, conceptual, methodological and empirical contributions to studies on wealth.

Area 1. Regulation and deregulation of wealth

A working premise is consolidated in the first area "Regulation and deregulation of wealth", which addresses the concentration of wealth and the inefficiency of tax systems in the region. This constellation not only has a strong economic impact, but also affects the relationship between state and society as well as between state and politics. It also influences the discourses, political culture and democratic legitimacy of the region. As regards social inequality, it is not the question of issuing a wealth tax per se that is relevant, but rather its coherent administration and design. Tax reforms, therefore, are one of the most important challenges for all countries in the American subcontinent. Consequently, area 1 proposes an interdisciplinary approach to the processes of regulation and deregulation of wealth in Latin America. To this end, it focuses on the historical configurations of tax systems and cultures, political processes linked to taxation, and the different discourses on tax justice and inequalities.

Area 2. Study of wealth and elites

While poverty has been studied from multiple angles, there is almost no research on economic elites, despite a growing scientific interest over the past decade. The 2nd research area of the laboratory "Study of wealth and elites" wants to position itself in this research gap. The intention is not merely to promote research on the world of economic elites, their formal and informal networks and repertoires of action, as well as the social configurations that favour their reproduction. It also seeks to analytically situate the studies in the cultural aspects and foundations of elite values, which distil an elite habitus. This social status materializes in high levels of structural and symbolic distancing within Latin American societies. In addition, the production of updated knowledge about the configurations of a political economy of wealth in the region, the balance of power and the social reproduction of the richest people in the region shall be promoted.

Area 3. Wealth, power and nature

The third research area of the laboratory gives continuity to the preceding themes by proposing to mainstream the socio-economic dynamics surrounding the management, exploitation and export of natural resources into the debates on wealth and power in the region. The economic history of Latin America has always been linked to the production of diverse natural resources for the world market, creating and intensifying socio-ecological crises, political conflicts and social inequalities. With regional differences, many Latin American economies are still largely determined by an economic structure characterised by rents as a special form of income. Economic and social actors at local, provincial and national level group around the state and extractive activities and try to monopolise access to incomes from the appropriation of nature. This not only generates exclusionary power spaces and destruction of nature, but also reproduces a social architecture of rentierism impeding processes that democratize and redistribute wealth. Thus, the third research area of the laboratory aims to develop new theoretical and methodological approaches that can analyse this constellation as well as the relationship between state policy, strategies of the economic elite, extractivism and social production of nature. This approach thus refers to the various manifestations, discourses and configurations of socio-natural relations and the political, social and cultural dynamics underlying their reproduction.

Creative Space "Researching wealth, power and nature: convergences and divergences between social sciences and humanities (ConDiv)

The diverse range of approaches and perspectives, thematic fields and areas of analysis proposed by Laboratory II entails the great challenge of articulating various areas of knowledge and disciplines. The main objective of CALAS, which aims to stimulate reflection in, about and from Latin America from a transdisciplinary perspective, illustrates not only the need for reflection on the analytical alliances for knowledge generation, but also on the conflicts and divergences between the social sciences and humanities. Thus, the Laboratory of Knowledge has designated a specific space to trigger this debate with the Creative Space "Researching wealth, power and nature: convergences and divergences between the social sciences and the humanities (ConDiv)". The ConDiv has a space integrated into the laboratory, which functions as a methodological interface between the laboratory and the transversal area of CALAS "Theorisation of Crises”. The objective is to elaborate the differences between the conceptualisations and methodologies provided by the humanities on the one hand and the social sciences on the other. For this purpose, ConDiv projects its work along the three research areas of the laboratory and focuses on a reflection that links the level of discursive patterns with the production of ideas. In this context, it focuses on discourse analysis (of written, oral and multimodal discourses), crossing the trajectories of knowledge with which wealth, power and inequalities are addressed.

Inequalities in the context of a pandemic

With the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic in 2020, the central theme of the laboratory for inequalities has become extremely complex. It is the collective responsibility of the Laboratory coordinators' group in particular, and of the CALAS team to address the political, economic and social impact of COVID-19 in the region more broadly. Given this background, the laboratory is conducting a study on the interplay between COVID-19 and the many social inequalities in the region. It will begin with the launch of the laboratory, and will report on the complexity that the scourge of the pandemic represents for Latin America.

This compendium of research areas, approaches and analytical focuses of the laboratory "Confronting Inequalities in Latin America: perspectives on wealth and power" offers an intense scientific exchange that interweaves disciplines and knowledge. The research will start in January 2021 and will take place for 18 months. The dynamics of the laboratory include the development of several Platforms for Dialogue, conferences and congresses for exchanges between not only the fellows associated with the three areas of research, but also with wider academic spaces as well as social and political organizations in Latin America.