Home » Research » Main Phase (2020-2026)

The implementation of the Main Phase is pending the BMBF’s final approval of the Centre.

The Centre

Mecila is one of five international centres for advanced studies in the humanities and social sciences financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in cooperation with local institutions. The Maria Sibylla Merian Centres aim at developing cutting-edge research through horizontal interdisciplinary cooperation among scholars from Germany, the Centre’s host countries, and other regions of the world.

Mecila is an academic consortium composed of three German institutions: Freie Universität Berlin (coordination), Universität zu Köln, and Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz); and four Latin American institutions: Universidade de São Paulo, Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento, El Colegio de México, and Instituto de Investigaciones en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales (Conicet / Universidad Nacional de La Plata). The Centre draws on long-term collaborative ties between these institutions.

Although Mecila has its headquarters in São Paulo, its activities take place at all seven member institutions, as well as at other cooperating institutions with joint projects.

The Centre is led by the Executive Board, consisting of representatives of its seven member institutions, one representative of the Postdoctoral Researchers and the Scientific Manager. Each year, the Executive Board elects four Directors (two from Germany, two from Latin America) to lead the Centre. Two of these Directors are based in São Paulo during their terms, while the other two chair the Centre from their home institutions.

An Ethics Committee and an International Advisory Board composed of outstanding scholars and representatives of civil society closely follow the activities of the Centre in order to ensure scientific excellence and social relevance in all research and outreach activities, as well as transparency, gender balance, and intersectional equity in all selection processes.

Research Programme

Mecila researches the co-constitution of conviviality and inequality from an interdisciplinary and historical perspective. Accordingly, the Centre focuses on the processes of negotiation, legitimation, and transformation of existing hierarchies as they take place in everyday interactions and within institutions. The legal, economic, environmental, and political contexts in which these interactions occur, as well as their representations (e.g. in literary texts, mass media, art objects and popular culture) are also of central relevance.

According to our relational and interdependent perspective, we postulate, firstly, that actors do not exist prior to interactions, but only through them; and secondly, that structures and interactions are mutually formed. Thus, our starting points are the convivial configurations in which the connection between conviviality, difference, and inequality is embedded. Convivial configurations can refer either to relations among humans or to interdependent ties between humans and non-humans, encompassing animals, plants, spirits, and artefacts. Taken from a diachronic perspective, convivial configurations are affected by daily transformations and by moments of inflection triggered either by the accumulation of minor changes (re-negotiations of everyday relations) or by more profound ruptures such as disasters, revolutions, and coups d’état. To identify different stages (prior or posterior to inflection) within the same convivial configuration, we refer to regimes of conviviality.

The Centre is equally interested in theoretical discussions and in empirical studies. Mecila is open to all methods and materials relevant to the humanities and social sciences, including, among others, qualitative and quantitative data, archives, literary texts, art objects, acoustic and iconographic collections, cartographies, social media samples. All disciplines and scholars belonging to the broad fields of the humanities and social sciences can potentially participate in the activities of the Centre. The only requirement is an interest in both focusing on the nexus conviviality-inequality and engaging in interdisciplinary dialogue in a broader sense.

The Centre is committed to research excellence, as well as to the production, dissemination, and exchange of knowledge relevant to social transformations towards the strengthening of democracy, the mitigation of social and power asymmetries, and the fostering of sustainable human-nature relations.

Mecila’s researchers are grouped in one of three interdisciplinary Research Areas according to their research topics:

  1. (Hi-)Stories of Conviviality: This Research Area brings together projects with a focus on the historical and narrative dimension of the nexus conviviality-inequality. Guiding questions include investigations into the ways in which past and present convivial configurations and regimes are shaped by various entangled histories. Hence, juridical and socio-economic aspects will play a central role in this Research Area due to their importance in maintaining or shifting a given convivial regime.
  2. Medialities of Conviviality: This Research Area focuses on processes of co-production and circulation of knowledge and representation relating to the nexus between inequality and conviviality. This includes both immaterial flows of ideas, values, and imaginaries as well as relevant practices and materialisations. Writing, drawing, photographing, collecting, and exhibiting offer important clues to the study of how notions of conviviality – for instance, as utopias or mythical pasts – were manifested in objects produced and circulated in convivial and unequal contexts. The role of new media will also be of interest for this Research Area.
  3. Politics of Conviviality: Projects focusing on the negotiation of differences and inequalities in everyday life and within institutions fall under this Research Area. Its central research questions concern the everyday and institutional practices which reinforce or diminish patterns of inequality within convivial configurations. It also considers how various agents – including social movements, governments, academics, and migrants among others – foster or challenge existing inequalities.

Instruments and Formats

Conceived as a transnational research network, Mecila articulates the pertinent research and outreach activities conducted by a group of 18 Principal Investigators and three Postdoctoral Researchers, who are based at the consortium institutions, in cooperation with 14 Associated Investigators from various institutions. Each year, several fellows are recruited via calls for application to join the Centre and develop their own research projects, or to participate in specific activities.

In order to ensure consistent and symmetrical exchange among its scholars, Mecila offers an annual general meeting, regular workshops and a weekly colloquium at its São Paulo hub. In order to foster an exchange with non-academic knowledge producers and to discuss its research results with a broader public, Mecila promotes joint workshops with civil society and social movement representatives, and organises public conferences, lectures, and workshops with local audiences.

The Centre’s primary research results are regularly published in Mecila’s Working Papers Series (available via free open access), as well as through press releases, Mecila’s Blog, a Podcast Series, interviews, and op-eds. Consolidated research results are published in books, edited volumes, and in articles and dossiers in outstanding journals. Policy recommendations are published in policy papers.

Each year, the Centre offers the following grants and fellowships:

1. Five senior and four junior fellowships:

Applicants for senior fellowships are outstanding, well-established scholars, while applicants for junior fellowships are excellent early-career scholars who have obtained their doctorate degree in the humanities or social sciences no longer than five years prior to application.

Senior and junior fellowships are grants for stays from March to November (except in 2020 from May to November) at Mecila hub in São Paulo, and entails participation in at least one visit for a lecture or similar activity at El Colegio de México, Mexico City, and/or Instituto de Investigaciones en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales in La Plata, Argentina.

Senior and Junior Fellows are expected to develop their own research project within the field conviviality-inequality, and to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue in the weekly colloquium and other relevant events and activities. Senior and Junior Fellows are also expected to contribute at least one working paper to Mecila’s Series and at least one outreach activity (interview, blog contribution, video, public lecture, policy paper, etc.).

Fellows are recruited by an international call open to applicants from all countries and all disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. The main selection criteria are the scientific quality of the candidate’s research profile and project proposal, as well as the overall contribution to Mecila. Applications for junior and senior fellowships are submitted to a peer-review process. Final decisions fall on the Executive Board in close consultation with the Advisory Board and the Ethics Committee.

2. Two Thematic Research Groups:

Each year Mecila offers two Thematic Research Groups the opportunity to spend ten weeks in São Paulo to work collaboratively on Mecila’s annual focal theme. The focal theme for 2020 will be “Conservatisms.”

Each of the Thematic Research Groups are composed of four fellows, including junior and senior scholars. At least one member of each group must be affiliated with one of the consortium institutions. The groups are expected to contribute at least one paper to Mecila’s Working Paper Series, participate actively in the Centre’s activities, and to engage in interdisciplinary exchange. The Thematic Research Groups are chosen through international calls. Applications are submitted to a peer-review process. Final decisions fall on the Executive Board in close consultation with the Advisory Board and the Ethics Committee. Due to the start of the project well into the year, only one Thematic Research Group will be awarded in 2020.

3. Six doctoral fellowships:

Applicants must be PhD students enrolled at one of the consortium institutions and interested in spending one academic term (from March to July or from July to November) at Mecila’s hub in São Paulo. Doctoral Fellows should participate actively in the Centre’s activities and to engage in interdisciplinary exchange. They are required to carry out activities relevant to their dissertation during their term (completion of at least one dissertation chapter or collection of relevant field data).

Doctoral Fellows will be chosen by means of a call for applications broadly distributed within the consortium institutions. Key selection criteria are the academic performance and the thematic coherence of their doctoral project with Mecila’s research programme. Application decisions fall on the Executive Board through a transparent peer-review process.

4. The Mecila Research Chair:

The Cátedra Mecila will be awarded to a scholar from one of the Latin American consortium institutions for ten-week research stays at one of the Latin American partner institutions. The Mecila Research Chair will rotate during the year between all four Latin American partner institutions, according to the following provisional schedule:

1 February to 15 April: USP;
16 April to 30 June: IdIHCS;
1 August to 15 October: CEBRAP;
16 October to 31 December: COLMEX.

Mecila Chair Holders are expected to give at least one public lecture at the host institution and to engage there in interdisciplinary dialogue on the research topics addressed by Mecila.

Mecila Chair Holders will be selected according to the excellence of their academic profiles and the subject adequacy of their ten-week research workplan. Decisions on applications fall on the Executive Board through a transparent peer-review process. Due to the start of project well into the year, the Mecila Chair will rotate on a shorter seven-week schedule in 2020:

1 May to 20 June: USP;
21 June to 15 August: IdIHCS;
16 August to 7 October: CEBRAP;
8 October to 30 November: COLMEX.

5. Short-term visits:

Distinguished visiting scholars will be invited for short-term visits(up to two weeks) in order to carry out specific cooperation activities with other Mecila researchers at the seven consortium partners. Since this particular grant supports ongoing research projects, only Mecila’s Investigators can apply for invitations for short-term visits. Application decisions fall on the Executive Board through a transparent decision-making process.

6. Reciprocal fellowships:

Using their own funds, FU Berlin and Universität zu Köln offer scholars from Latin America fellowships of up to two months in Berlin and Cologne, where successful applicants will carry out activities related to Mecila’s research programme. Due to the institutional character of the funding for reciprocal fellowships, grant decisions fall on the Principal Investigators of the respective institution through a transparent decision-making process.

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