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Research Dimension III: Socio-ecological Inequalities

The research on socio-ecological dimensions of social inequalities (Research Dimension III) looks at the environment as the prism of social inequalities influenced by transregional interdependencies (as is, for example, the case with soybean production or globalized mining). The analysis of power and knowledge as pursued by approaches within social anthropology, human geography, and sociology is at the core of this research dimension.

  • Environmental conflicts in a globalized economy: The natural resource question is not a new one for Latin America. Since colonization, Latin America has been an arena for severe conflicts on the access, use, and distribution of natural resources. Today, however, these conflicts have gained a new quality, since an increasingly de-territorialized and interdependent global economy has produced new and more complex settings and processes of actors, institutions and regimes who are involved in these conflicts. On the one hand, globalization has intensified the competition on scarce natural resources on a global, regional, and local level. For example, Latin America has gained importance as a provider of natural resources (e.g. soybeans, minerals) for the expanding Asian economies with strong impacts on local societies. On the other hand, through global discourses on environmental protection (e.g. climate change, biodiversity) and the transnationalization of indigenous rights, awareness on the cultural and social values of ecosystems has grown. Pressure is raised on national and local governments to protect environments as common goods. Conflicts with globalized mining and tourism are increasing as they put local resource use patterns and resource rights at risk. Key issues are the unequal access to resources and the unequal distribution of resource values and gains. Therefore, one research question of the network is whether the increasing transnational interdependencies of resources used leads to an intensification of economic, social, and cultural inequalities at regional and local level. 
  • Unequal distribution of environmental risks and environmental costs: Environmental risks and environmental costs are not socially neutral, but have to be understood as the result of both, political and economic structures, regulations, and negotiation processes. At present, they are literally de-located to less powerful regions and more vulnerable social groups. The social (re)distribution of environmental risks and costs (e.g. local impacts of climate change; agro-export of virtual water and nutrients; local water depletion and land degradation by mining) needs further investigation. Which control mechanisms exist at different political and spatial levels and how do they affect the distribution of environmental risks and costs? It also has to be asked which clashes and social cleavages are related to the exploitation and valorization of natural resources on the one hand, and to the protection against natural catastrophes and the management of environmental risks on the other. On the basis of local case studies, the network wants to analyze the unequal distribution of environmental risks and environmental costs. It also wants to gain a better understanding of the impact growing transnational interdependencies have on unequal distribution of capabilities to handle environmental risks and recover from natural catastrophes. 
  • Socio-ecological inequalities and knowledge: If environmental problems and debates are seen as socially constructed and as embedded into transregional interdependent configurations of social inequality, power, and the knowledge of aspects have to be put to the center of analysis. The geopolitics of knowledge in relation to cultural, social, and economic appropriation of nature are a key issues of the network. For example, the impacts of transnational interdependencies on unequal access as well as the applicability of environmental knowledge will be studied. Other key issues of the network are how profits, coming from the exploitation of natural resources, are socially distributed according to ethnic, gender, and class lines and how they are spatially distributed on local, regional, and transregional levels. In addition, it will be analyzed how phenomena of social inequality are related to the social imaginary and to cultural practices — mobility, concepts of nature, local practices of using natural resources — of individual and collective social actors.


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