One particular feature of the group is that it involves researchers from Germany and scholars from the relevant Latin American nations, for a total of about 60 experts from the fields of political science, social and cultural anthropology, economics, geography, law, and sociology. Right now they are addressing current issues: For about a year now, people in Brazil have been taking to the streets to voice their discontent. Social inequality is the main factor behind their actions. Quality of life in the cities has declined, and there are problems with healthcare and education.
“Brazil is very important to the network,” says one of its spokespersons, Professor Sérgio Costa of Freie Universität. Not only have Brazilian researchers contributed the majority of scientific papers in Latin America, but the country is also interesting because the extreme inequalities in place there are particularly influenced by interrelated global factors. In historical terms, they go back to colonialism and slavery, Costa says, and nowadays they can only be grasped in connection with the fact that Brazil is a part of the global economy in the role of an exporter of raw materials and agricultural products.
Since the network was launched in 2009, more than 20 junior scholars and experienced researchers have done research on Brazil-related topics at Freie Universität. “Guest scholars and scientists come to us from various Brazilian universities, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro,” Costa explains. All of them engage in interdisciplinary dialogue as they work on their topics. They might study why the Brazilian government has achieved only short-term success with its plan to fight poverty so far, without any lasting social redistribution, or the extent to which tax policy affects inequality.
Other researchers work on agricultural topics, such as genetic engineering of food and land conflicts. Latin America’s dependence on natural resources in general is a crucial dimension that the network has helped to include with greater prominence in the research on inequality, says network spokesperson Barbara Göbel, who is involved in the network on the part of the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut at the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation).
The current protests, many of the scholars involved agree, represent a chance for the local populace to finally have their cries for greater fairness heard by the global public as well.