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Research Dimension II: Socio-political Inequalities

The research on socio-political dimensions of social inequalities (Research Dimension II) takes a pronounced power-analytical perspective while addressing (trans)regional representations, experiences, and negotiation processes of social inequalities. This perspective is mainly inspired by contributions from political sciences, sociology, ethnology, social anthropology, history, and legal studies.

  • Social inequality and the construction of otherness: Since colonization, social exclusion in Latin America has been based on the construction of cultural, ethnic, and racialized otherness. Categories such as indio, mestizo, mulato and criollo, as well as racialized gender and class constructions are at the core of social segregation and stratification processes, defining the position of different population groups in the social field. Moreover, these ethnicized, racialized, and genderized categories have influenced socially exclusive policies on education, welfare, urban development, poverty reduction, and the law, implemented by state and non-state actors. At the same time, however, these discriminating categories have been appropriated and positively redefined by social movements and form today a symbolic and discursive basis for new political identities and protests against social inequalities. It is obvious that these categories have been formed within complex transregional and global discursive spaces. It has to be asked how these globally constituted categories are negotiated in Latin America at local and regional level and how these negotiations shape processes of social segregation and exclusion. 
  • Welfare state, social movements, and citizenship: In Europe, working-class movements and other social movements have successfully worked towards the institutionalization of social and urban projects. In the twentieth century, social guarantees were created, national legislations complemented with social legislations, and important welfare state institutions were established. In contrast, in Latin America social movements were not always powerful enough to integrate their political struggles into the nation building project and could only establish fragile alliances and interfaces with the state. Due to this lack of legally guaranteed economic and social rights, which was strengthened further by the structural adjustment programs and state downsizing since the 1980s, non-governmental actors and organizations, among them different forms of community and neighbourhood (self-help) organizations and social movements, as well as international and transnational actors are increasingly involved in the delivery of education and other welfare and social services. Among these "new" actors, a broad range of transnational actors, such as the Catholic Church, new evangelical communities, international think tanks, local/international non-governmental organizations, and transnational networks of migrants have come to play an important role in the negotiation of socio-political rights.
  • Public sphere and global communication: Articulation and negotiation of inequalities passes through the public sphere. At the same time, access to the public sphere itself is marked by structural inequalities, giving different social groups different possibilities to raise their voice and make it heard. While the concept of public sphere has been developed as linked to the nation state, the increasing globalization of the media, and in particular the web-based digital technologies with global reach have opened new dimensions for cross-border and transregional articulation. While this should not be too rapidly mistaken for a "global public sphere", desiguALdades.net will explore how this increased participation of transnational voices impacts on the inequalities in access to the public sphere as well as on the negotiation of inequalities.
  • Global legal structures: In the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century, Latin America has experienced a wave of formal democratization, accompanied by constitutional reforms and the introduction of new social rights. However, it is questionable whether the Latin American nation states have the capacity to actually implement these new rights. In this context, new forms of legal arrangements, which transcend national legal frameworks, increasingly function as legal and discursive sources for claiming rights and entitlements at a local level. This is true for the body of "negative" civil rights which have been successfully anchored into a global human rights system. But also other legally more fragile entitlements based for example on charters of social rights and development agendas of national and multilateral organizations increasingly influence globally interdependent legal arrangements. How these entitlements are negotiated locally and regionally, and how they affect the inequality between different groups at national and regional level, but also between different world regions has not been so far investigated sufficiently. desiguALdades.net puts the research focus on the interdependencies between the changed legal framework, redistributive battles on different levels, and different concepts and practices of citizenship such as ciudadanía, a concept that includes not only the complete range of social economic and cultural rights, but additionally integrates a subjective, agency-oriented perspective on rights.
  • State formation and international interventions: Through the practices and policies of its institutions, the Latin American state has reinforced and frequently perpetuated rather than alleviated existing socio-political inequalities. This is due to the underlying social structures and resources that formed the basis of the regional state formation processes. In such a context, international interventions within the field of development cooperation, humanitarian aid, or transnational security arrangements ever since have had direct consequences for processes of (re)distribution of social, cultural, and economic resources at local level. Such interventions can reduce social cleavages, but may also contribute to their accentuation or even produce new ones. At the same time, Latin America has served, and still serves, as a laboratory for modernity in which specific political, institutional, and economic concepts and practices are tested and then re-imported.


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