01.03.2017 10:41

Universities of Kassel and Bielefeld establish new research centre in Mexico

Social inequality, conflict, ecology, identity – a new socioscientifical centre is tasked with researching subjects such as these. The center in Guadalajara, Mexico is being jointly developed by the University of Kassel and Bielefeld University together with other German universities. Financing for the centre comes from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in connection with the Maria Sybilla Merian Programme.

Detail of the new CALAS building in Guadalajara. Photo: Uni Kassel.

With this programme, the BMBF promotes exchange with international academics while at the same time increasing the presence of German scholarly activity abroad.  Following a two-year development phase, 20 fellows (international guest scholars) should be working on a rotating basis in the Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CALAS) in Mexico's second largest city Guadalajara. In addition, they will be joined by doctoral candidates in various graduate programmes. Also planned are CALAS branches in Costa Rica, Argentine and Ecuador, which will each have their own research groups.

The grant from the BMBF initially covers the two-year development phase and amounts to one million euros (approximately 400,000 of which is slated for the University of Kassel). Assuming that the activities receive a positive evaluation, at least six years of subsequent operation are planned. The grant would then cover a total of eight years in an amount of 13 million euros. In addition to University of Kassel, universities from Bielefeld, Hanover and Jena are participating in the project. Kassel and Bielefeld are leading the project and directing the establishment and work of CALAS.

It is planned to have the research take place in four clusters: "Social and Ecological Transformation", "Social Inequality", "Violence and Conflict Resolution" and "Identity as Structure". In all these areas, the focus will be on developing solution strategies for social and political crises.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Burchardt, head of the Department of International and Intersocietal Relations in Kassel and one of four directors of CALAS, explains the approach as follows: "This concerns Latin American crises, as well as the effects of global crises. Highly interesting problem-solving approaches are coming out of South and Middle America in areas such as migration or environmental protection, which the countries of the Northern Hemisphere could learn from." The graduate programme should "advance a young generation of well-educated and eloquent academics" and in particular should provide opportunities for groups that are frequently neglected in the Latin American academic systems such as blacks, indigenous people or women. As Burchardt puts it: "We don't want to research about Latin Americans, rather together with them."

The President of the University of Kassel, Prof. Dr. Reiner Finkeldey, congratulated Prof. Burchardt on the acquisition of the project: "CALAS will increase Kassel University's public image in Latin America in a very tangible way and at the same time contribute to the internationalisation of our university. In addition to this, when the work there is successful, we can certainly expect that the fellows and doctoral candidates who are working there will bring important research ideas back to Kassel."

Burchardt expects an "enormous boost" for Latin American research in Kassel.  There will also be a benefit in the teaching and training of up and coming academics through exchange workshops or the stays of guest scholars in Kassel.
The official start of the project is scheduled for 1 March 2017. Two positions will be created in Kassel during the two-year development phase for the initiation of research work using funding from the BMBF. In addition to Prof. Burchardt's department, other departments from the social sciences, Romance studies as well as the Institute for Vocational Education will be involved.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Burchardt
University of Kassel
Department of International and Intersocietal Relations
Tel.: +49 561 8043253

Sebastian Mense
University of Kassel
Communications, Press and Public Relations
Tel.: +49 561 804-1961