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06/12/2019 | Porträts und Geschichten

The University of Kassel becomes a center for Latin America research

Our university coordinates one of the most extensive research projects on Latin America funded by Germany.

Image: Mense
Group picture at a CALAS preparatory meeting 2017. In the blue jacket Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Burchardt.

Latin America is in the media: Be it because of the political unrest in Venezuela, the political development in Brazil or the threat of a wall between the USA and Mexico. Such  phenomena make us forget that Latin America is not only shaken by crises, but often develops creative solutions that also offer important suggestions for Europe. How do crises arise in Latin America and how are they resolved? The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the CALAS joint project to answer this question with 12 million euros over the next six years. The University of Kassel is coordinating the "Maria Sibylla Merian Centre for Advanced Latin American Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences" (CALAS), based at the University of Guadalajara (Mexico), together with Bielefeld University. It is one of the most extensive research projects on Latin America funded by Germany. On the German side, the universities of Kassel, Bielefeld, Hannover and Jena are involved. In Latin America, in addition to the University of Guadalajara, the regional sites of San José (Costa Rica), Quito (Ecuador) and Buenos Aires (Argentina) are participating.

The focus is on dealing with social, political and ecological crises. Research is conducted in four clusters: "Social-ecological transformation," "Social inequalities," "Violence and conflict resolution," and "Identity. Within the research network, the University of Kassel coordinates, among other things, an extensive research program on issues of social inequality in the areas of elite research, inequality and education, and socio-ecological inequalities, conducts research on the future of work in order to create economically productive, socially compatible, and ecologically sustainable jobs in the long term and in an international perspective, and develops teaching modules for sustainable development with Argentinean and Cuban partners.

"Researching with them, not about them".

The focus of CALAS is on strategies for solving sociopolitical crises, emphasizes Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Burchardt, head of the Department of International and Inter-Societal Relations in Kassel and one of the two German directors of CALAS: "More than almost any other region of the global South, Latin America is characterized by the creative search for cultural and political strategies for overcoming multiple challenges that accompany social change and point to new development paths. We want to examine these and find out what we can learn from them. The focus is on scientific exchange with colleagues - we want to do research with them, not about them. I am convinced that CALAS will be one of the most important European research networks with Latin America within the next five years, and I am pleased that with Kassel, Hesse is also working to solve the problems that will decide the future of humanity, in the sense of more social justice and more sustainable development."

"Name of the university gets a special sound"

The President of the University of Kassel, Prof. Dr. Reiner Finkeldey, congratulated Prof. Burchardt and the entire CALAS team on the acquisition and positive evaluation of the project: "This research association makes an important contribution to understanding between North and South. CALAS gives the name of the University of Kassel a special sound in the social science community of Latin America. The exchange in this project will furthermore help the internationalization of our university. For this reason, the University supports the research network with the establishment of the Kassel Latin America Center CELA, which aims to couple the international activities of CALAS with the city, the region and with all of Hesse." The official start of the main phase of CALAS was March 1, 2019. In the set-up phase, the alliance had already been funded since 2017. In addition to Prof. Burchardt's department, other Kassel departments from the social sciences, Romance studies and the Institute for Vocational Education and Training are involved. Just under 6 of the 12 million euros in funding will go to Kassel. CALAS was approved within the BMBF funding line "Maria Sibylla Merian Centres". With these research networks, the BMBF aims to advance the internationalization of the humanities, cultural studies and social sciences in Germany through close bilateral and multilateral cooperation projects at locations outside Germany. CALAS was approved in 2017 as the second center ever in Germany within this funding line.


The Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos CELA
Since its foundation in 2017, the "Centro de Estudios Lantinoamericanos (CEL A)" bundles Latin American research at the University of Kassel. The research center forms an umbrella structure for several subfields: One focus is on the research network CALAS, which is funded by the BMBF. Another sub-area of CELA is the Argentina Forum, which for several years has been bundling the scientific exchange of Kassel scientists working with Argentine partner universities. In recent years, the Forum has focused on the humanities and cultural sciences, but has continuously expanded its range of subjects in recent years. The area of university education and didactics is gaining in importance, including vocational training and courses of study that train future teachers. The CELA sees itself as an interdisciplinary research center and is open to different forms of cooperation. The board of directors consists of Prof. Burchardt and Prof. Dr. Angela Schrott.


By Sebastian Mense

This article appeared in Publik 02/2019. Click here for the full issue.