Research Concept of desiguALdades.net
desiguALdades.net is an international, interdisciplinary, and multi-institutional research network. It addresses the phenomena of social inequalities that are embedded in transregional social configurations and that need to be analyzed within theoretical and methodological frameworks going beyond the nation state. By putting the emphasis on the interdependencies between different world regions, desiguALdades.net aims at overcoming the methodological nationalisms that until now have dominated research on social inequality.
From such a perspective, Latin America is a highly interesting and relevant region to be studied. First of all, Latin America has been characterized by severe and highly persisting forms of social, economic, and cultural inequalities throughout its history. Simultaneously, the subcontinent as a whole and the phenomena of social inequality in particular are affected by profound dynamics of transregionalization, related to different phases of globalization.
Last but not least, it is the dynamism of Latin American research on social inequality itself that makes Latin America a privileged region for developing a network on transregional phenomena of social inequalities. Concepts such as dependencia and marginalization contributed significantly to a global debate on interdependent social inequalities. Today, new perspectives on social inequalities are being developed in Latin American social sciences. On a theoretical level, they combine structure and power-oriented approaches as well as knowledge- and culture-oriented approaches in order to overcome dualism of structure and agency. The current Latin American debates focus on (1) the phenomenon of ongoing persistence and even accentuation of socio-economic inequalities despite a general economic growth; (2) a shift from a purely economic understanding of social inequality towards one that acknowledges the multiple forms of power asymmetry by integrating non-economic dimensions of social inequality, such as culture, ethnicity, "race", and gender; (3) the link between the question of social inequality and the growing relevance of environmental issues for social inequalities at a global level. desiguALdades.net aims at connecting these different research lines within a comprehensive research design on interdependent social inequalities in Latin America.
Whereas Latin American social sciences are well known for being highly receptive to theoretical traditions and developments of German and European social sciences, the new perspectives on social inequalities developed by Latin American social scientists have so far only been marginally taken into account in German debates on social inequality. German research traditions on social inequalities have for a long time played a leading role in debates on social inequality and have contributed to main theoretical frameworks for the analysis of social inequality: economy-oriented class analysis (Marx), concepts of social stratification related to status and prestige (Weber, Dahrendorf, Geiger), and approaches on processes of de-proletarization and nivellation (Schelsky). Nowadays, the debate is even more diversified, including approaches on social milieus, lifestyles, individualization, and social fields. While emphasizing the multidimensional configurations of social inequalities and proposing a systematic analytical combination of structure and power, the global dimensions of social inequality have been rather neglected by German social scientists.
It is a major objective of desiguALdades.net to promote a systematic transatlantic dialogue between these two epistemic communities. Thus, the basic impetus of desiguALdades.net is not only to push for a paradigmatic shift in the research on social inequalities by including transregional interdependencies, but also to create networks and interlinkages between different, formerly separated or only loosely connected research threads. This will contribute to the development of new theoretical and methodological perspectives on social inequalities.
Central Research Questions and Dimensions
desiguALdades.net is guided by two central research questions:
(1) To what extent is the distribution of resources and the access to aspired social positions in Latin America shaped by global and transregional interdependencies, in addition to local, regional, and national ones?
(2) To what extent does the embeddedness of social inequalities into transregional interdependencies create enduring power differences and unequal opportunities for the social, economic, and political participation of the respective individuals, communities, or societies?
In order to work on these two central questions, desiguALdades.net analytically differentiates between three distinct dimensions of social inequality: socio-economic inequalities (Research Dimension I), socio-political inequalities (Research Dimension II), and socio-ecological inequalities (Research Dimension III). At the beginning, research in the network will be organized according to these three dimensions, providing the network with a clear structure. In the course of the project, however, the analytical separation between the three dimensions will be given up in favor of a comprehensive perspective, focusing on the systematic interdependencies between the different dimensions of social inequality.
The research on socio-economic dimensions of social inequalities (Research Dimension I) takes a clear structural perspective. The basic approaches derive from political economics and sociology. However, the interdisciplinary design of desiguALdades.net explicitly welcomes contributions from history and legal studies as well.
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.
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 it 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.
Emphasizing the transregional interdependencies of social inequalities, each research dimension will be confronted with theoretical and methodological challenges. These will be systematically addressed in the Cross-cutting Research Dimension: Theory and Methodology. Here, research will focus on new temporal configurations of social inequalities, be they synchronic or diachronic, as well as on new spatial configurations, be they local, national, regional, or global. The aim of the fourth research dimension is to systematize translocal and transregional entanglements in the field of social inequalities. On a methodological level, the fourth research dimension aims at developing new research designs and methodological approaches for analyzing transregional flows and connections that shape local phenomena of social inequality in Latin America such as multi-sited research, comparative research, or global ethnography. These approaches must be able to systematically integrate both structure- as well as agency-related dimensions of globalization and transregionalization. This will be realized by an active participation of all three other research dimensions and all disciplines involved in the network.