Mecila

#4 Politics of Conviviality

The main concern of the Research Area Politics of Conviviality lies in how markers of difference are negotiated in contexts of power asymmetries and subsequently impact patterns of inequality within convivial configurations. It inquires how various agents either enhance or challenge existing inequalities through their everyday and institutional practices.

In line with Mecila’s theoretical approach, the Research Area Politics of Conviviality considers that an entanglement between conviviality and inequality always pervades social interactions. This means that there are no “purely convivial” nor “purely unequal” social relations: each social setting features a specific combination, or constellation, of the two. However, acknowledging that conviviality and inequality are always entangled is not the ultimate aim of our endeavours, but rather the starting point. The constellation of conviviality and inequality is different – and many times radically so – in each social context. In this sense, to illustrate how the entanglement between conviviality and inequality can assume the most varied forms, we can look at the contrasts one will find in observing the social relations involved in two scenarios.

On the one hand, the precarious and often illegal labour performed by informal workers in the peripheries of many Latin American and Caribbean cities (which comprise complex relations with local communities, suppliers, customers, law enforcement, often also paramilitary forces, etc.). On the other, the relationships of intimacy and affection among family members who share a domestic life and engage in many different forms of care activities (childrearing, care for the elderly and persons with special needs, household work such as cleaning and cooking, etc.). Neither can  be said to be based entirely on inequality or conviviality alone, for there are instances of conviviality in the first case (relations of solidarity among fellow workers, for example), and inequality can also be found in the second (for instance, the gender-based inequality in the distribution of care work and emotional labour). Hence, beyond acknowledging that the conviviality-inequality entanglement is present in both scenarios, it is of great importance to understand how this entanglement works in each case, how it came to be this way, and what possibilities they conceal of a less asymmetric or oppressive form of entanglement.

It is not necessary to draw on a stark contrasts to find distinct and unique forms of entanglement between conviviality and inequality. Even within the realm of precarious labour, to give but one example, the correlation between these two factors varies greatly depending on the geographical region of Latin America and the Caribbean, whether one looks at rural or urban areas, at export-oriented economic sectors or domestic labour, at gender-specific practices and customs, at the different ethnic origins of the subjects, or their religious affiliation, etc. And besides varying according to more or less spatialized contexts, this correlation also changes over time, as transformations in each social sphere – e.g. law, culture, economy, politics – impact the others with unpredictable, complex, and at times even contradictory consequences.

Therefore, we strive to understand specific constellations of social relations through the lens of conviviality-inequality in the present, the past, and a possible future. The singular ways in which conviviality and inequality intermingle in particular configurations (synchronic dimension) and regimes (diachronic dimension) is precisely what is of interest to us. We investigate these specific constellations by exploring their inner dynamics and their connections to the broad web of political, economic, social, legal, and environmental interrelations in which they are embedded.

The main concern of the Research Area Politics of Conviviality lies in how markers of difference are negotiated in contexts of power asymmetries and subsequently impact patterns of inequality within convivial configurations. It inquires how various agents – including social movements and activists, governmental agencies, the academic community, migrants, indigenous peoples, informal networks or groups, the digital public sphere, and many others – either enhance or challenge existing inequalities through their everyday and institutional practices. [1]

One should not understand the reference to the negotiation of differences as a sign of a non-conflictual conception of social relations. Rather, we assume that negotiation is always taking place within asymmetrical power relations and often in hostile or contentious forms. Indeed, there are convivial constellations where negotiation of differences is fragile if possible at all due to asymmetries of power that are so acute that they render any non-violent exchange between agents ineffective at best – and perniciously ideological at worst. In these instances, the conviviality-inequality framework shows its usefulness because it allows for the critical examination of such configurations as limit cases.

This does not, strictly speaking, apply to those cases where the physical elimination of an agent or group of agents by another is involved. In such extreme cases, one cannot any longer speak of a social relation, for a proper social relation requires the existence and maintenance of different interacting agents. Latin American and Caribbean societies are unfortunately all too familiar with extreme cases, such as genocide. It does not mean, however, that in such circumstances the conviviality-inequality framework does not apply and would have to be replaced for a more fitting one. The radical situation in which a social relation is itself brutally terminated can only be understood as a result of a previous, and severely violent, relation, where the correlation between conviviality and inequality is dramatically imbalanced. Thus, extreme cases do not make the conviviality-inequality framework superfluous. Instead, such situations reinforce its value as a complex and internally differentiated analytical tool.

 Image credit: Mariana Teixeira

Moreover, it is crucial to note that the idea of “the political” should not be conflated with the realm of institutionalised politics, macro-structures, and top-down power relations. It involves, to be sure, the analysis of conviviality-inequality within party systems, electoral polls and disputes, political preferences, contexts of legal decision-making, public policy, governance, and so on. But the scope of this Research Area is not limited to this formal arena: as we see it, politics also encompasses everyday life interactions, unstably codified practices, unspoken conflicts, and informal agreements, which are also marked by inequality and conviviality in particular ways. In this sense, both the public and private spheres of social life are eminently political.

Neither is politics understood here as opposed to other social spheres as if the latter were apolitical in their nature. The economy, the production of knowledge, the media, legal procedures, the cultural dimension of symbolic interactions and traditions, the relation to natural and human-made environments, demographic shifts and displacements, gender disparities, artistic expressions, religious practices – these are all seen as politically constituted from the start; they are not externally affected by politics, they are political from within. They are all pervaded by more or less negotiated markers of difference within contexts of more or less asymmetrical power relations, giving rise to a myriad of convivial constellations where inequality plays a constitutive role. The aim of the Research Area Politics of Conviviality is then to outline and understand the contours of these entanglements and critically challenge their seemingly static, fixed nature.

[1] In line with Mecila’s critique of Anthropocentrism, it is crucial to remark here that “agents” is a category that embraces not only human beings, but also the many forms of non-human entities: technologies, animals, plants, spirits, artefacts, etc.

RA Politics of Conviviality

 


 

Further reading

  • Baldraia, Fernando (2020): “Epistemologies for Conviviality, or Zumbification”, Mecila Working Paper Series, No. 25, São Paulo: The Maria Sibylla Merian International Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America, http://dx.doi.org/10.46877/baldraia.2020.25.
  • Costa, Sérgio (2019): “The Neglected Nexus between Conviviality and Inequality”, Mecila Working Paper Series, No. 17, São Paulo: The Maria Sibylla Merian International Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America.
  • Edited volume: La argentina en el siglo XXI: Cómo somos, vivimos y convivimos en una sociedad desigual, edited by Juan Piovani and Agustín Salvia, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2018.
  • Edited volume: Desigualdades en México 2018, edited by Laura Flamand and Melina Altamirano, El Colegio de México, 2018.
  • Dossier: “Conviviality in Unequal Societies: A Proposal for Interdisciplinary Collaboration”, edited by Marcos Nobre and Sérgio Costa (with articles by Gesine Müller, Frank Adloff, Karen Graubart and Sérgio Costa), Novos Estudos vol. 38, n. 1, 2019.

#3 Medialities of Conviviality

In our understanding of the nexus between conviviality, difference, and inequality, the dimension of knowledge and the ways and means of mediation are of crucial relevance.

The Research Area: Medialities of Conviviality analyses, through the lens of inequality and difference, processes of co-production, circulation, and appropriation of knowledge, imaginaries, and representations. These processes include movements of persons, ideas, values, and objects. Practices such as writing, drawing, photographing, collecting, and exhibiting offer clues to the study of how notions of conviviality – for instance, utopias or mythical pasts – become manifest in objects that are produced, negotiated, and circulated in unequal convivial configurations. Digital transformation is shaping the circulation of knowledge in new and unprecedented ways, reducing old inequalities but also producing new ones. In our understanding of the nexus between conviviality, difference, and inequality, the dimension of knowledge and the ways and means of mediation are of crucial relevance.

We refer, on the one hand, to processes of mediation in communicative situations and social practices. On the other hand, to the structures that shape conviviality and configure the contexts in which interactions take place. Different knowledge forms and representations and, in more general terms, knowledge asymmetries, frame negotiations of interclass, interethnic, intercultural, and inter-gender relations. They also influence disputes over relevant social issues such as symbolic belonging, political participation, and the distribution of resources. Similarly, the heterogeneous, often conflictive modes in which individuals and social groups represent and symbolize conviviality are grounded in diverse, often unequal ways and practices of knowing. To understand how knowledge and representations are produced and reproduced in convivial contexts, not only interactions between social actors but also between humans and non-human entities have to be taken into account. In our understanding of medialities, we are using at least three interconnected dimensions on medialities of conviviality: the analysis of representations and identities in dispute; the differences of media genres and properties (including material and immaterial); and the tension between “inclusion” and “exclusion”. These interconnected dimensions of medialities will be analyzed in different convivial configurations.

A first cluster approaches archives, cultural heritage, and politics of identity within the framework of medialities of conviviality. For example, in recent decades, anthropological and natural history-oriented collections have become the starting point for debates on cultural heritage and restitution demands by indigenous communities. Processes of re-circulation and re-appropriations opened up new arenas of negotiation that put the paradox between conviviality and inequality at the centre. They re-position indigenous actors in disputes about meanings, relations, practices, and structures. This re-positioning does not only imply a historical re-contextualization departing from cultural diversity but also the creation of new knowledge in an immaterial and material sense. Archives (museums, libraries, etc.) and collections are contact zones where difference and inequalities meanings, practices, and human-object relations are negotiated. Diversity, openness, and incompleteness are crucial elements of living together in these contact zones. Diverse forms and practices of knowledge shape the multiperspective and relational character of objects. One example of studies we are envisioning is comparing imaginaries of Latin American cultures in museums in Berlin with its representations in music, dance, food, literature, art, or political activism.

Cultural heritage is also gaining relevance in the context of migration. When migrating, people take material and immaterial culture with them, adapt and re-signify them in the societies they move to, while remaining connected with their places of origin. Thus, migration creates new transcultural spaces and reconfigures networks between people, objects, and knowledge. Fluid cultural phenomena such as migrations challenge traditional concepts of cultural heritage and its transition into the digital world. The migration of objects, peoples, and knowledge-based practices seems ideal for exploring the limits of cultural heritage concepts rooted in the logic of the nation-state. In the context of migration, cultural heritage is reinterpreted in multiple ways; it is constantly subject to change since migration creates new cultural expressions combining elements of the cultures of origin and arrival. What are the medialities of conviviality in migratory contexts? What is the role of objects and cultural practices in the politics of identity of diaspora communities? What roles does social media play in these processes?

Archives are undergoing profound transformations because of digital transformation. Digitization is a new technique of high speed and broad range trans-border mobilization of objects. How is it changing the archive as a convivial configuration? Is it reducing knowledge inequalities, or is it creating new ones? How is, for example, digital transformation modifying the role of public libraries in Latin America for conviviality in societies characterized by cultural diversity and profound inequalities? Often these libraries are caught in a tension between heritage protection and the democratization of knowledge. Also, the increasingly massive use of social media can have quite divergent effects on democratic conviviality in Latin America. While social media can give pro-democratic forces new means of holding governments accountable and pressing for broader political inclusion, they can also amplify right-wing voices, including those against liberal democracy. How does the use of social media differ between different social and ethnic groups? What effects do social media have on the aesthetics of political messages? What significance do social media have concerning negotiating inequality and conviviality?

In the second cluster, dedicated to other epistemologies and representations, we will confront questions posed by the interdependent inequalities that have contributed to shaping (Eurocentric, white, and male) academic canons, as well as dynamics of marginalisation and inclusion of voices, especially indigenous, female, and of the so-called Southern Theories and philosophies. However, self-representations have emerged from indigenous women that show gender inequalities and violence, positioning other identities (individual or collective) and ways of producing knowledge (communiqués, songs, poems or films, videos, among others).  Likewise, in the academic context, indigenous women have had to fight for recognition as academics and demand to be included in contemporary debates on political discussions and knowledge production from other ontologies. Under these two axes of political action and positioning, indigenous women have highlighted the inequalities and asymmetries of knowledge. Still, at the same time, they have generated proposals for networks and transnational actions by women as expressions of the coexistence of diversity.

«We use at least three interconnected dimensions on medialities of conviviality: the analysis of representations and identities in dispute; the differences of media genres and properties (including material and immaterial); and the tension between “inclusion” and “exclusion”».

Also, since the conquest and the colonization, knowledge about (non-human) animals and plants has been an input in knowledge production and the global commodity circuits. In these processes, indigenous contributions have been ignored, and their territories have been transformed, becoming places of risk, contamination, or danger. In the face of these dynamics, indigenous peoples have begun to position their knowledge, practices, and ways of life by making their relationships with non-humans (plants, animals, land, water, among others) visible as networks of relationships that allow for the coexistence of life. In these contexts, we propose to analyse the changes in the social sciences (ontological turn) that enable the rethinking of non-humans, and that open up the positioning of other ways of conviviality. Concerning the processes of marginalisation/inclusion of voices, we will analyse the role that Latin American theories have played, and still plays, in the transformation of the social sciences and, especially, their reception in the global North within the framework of asymmetric structures within the production and circulation of knowledge. A paradigmatic example of circulation from South to North was the productive reception of dependency theories in Europe, opening the canon of social theory toward the south. We will discuss the possibility of a convivial canon. All with a view to making visible the inequalities and asymmetries of knowledge and processes of exclusion, to position new ways of understanding conviviality.

A third cluster involves medialities of conviviality within the framework of literature and cross-genres. We want to revisit the 1920s to study conviviality in a radical decade. The highly creative cultural production of the Golden Twenties emerged in an ideologically, politically, and economically tense, violent, and disruptive context, marked by differences and inequalities. The public space was shaped by new constellations of the sexes (the myth of the “New Man” and the imagery of the “New Woman”) as well as transgressions and re-negotiations of gender roles. We are specifically interested in the aesthetics and poetics of the 1920s, the modernities of the peripheries and Latin American cultural critique on mestizaje, transculturation and heterogeneity, and their actualization and resignification in today’s times. One thematic focus of the comparison are so-called popular cultures. Examples are literary discourses on cultural processes and conviviality in popular hispanic literature, stretching from Spain to Latin America, or the construction of national identities since the late 19th century, particularly in popular genres and their cross-media configurations, including tango, samba, and ranchera. These studies are complementary to studies in the Research Area: (Hi-)stories of Conviviality on conviviality of difference in Caribbean Literature of the 19th century.

Another dimension of the comparison is the presence and role of non-European cultures. In the 1920s, this became manifest not only in the growing interest in the so-called primitivism of the poetic avant-gardes, but also in innovative and radical thinking on the role of indigenous cultures. One example of this thinking is the Peruvian writer and intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui.  Considering the circulation of his ideas, we want to analyze representations of inequality and conviviality in the so-called indigenismo and neo-indigenismo in Latin America. In the context of Mecila’s annual focus theme for the years 2021-22 Indigeneities, the cultural representations and poetic agencies of indigeneities in a comparative perspective will be of particular interest.  Comparing 1920 and 2020 allows us to reflect anew on that post-war era of radical innovations, escalating conflicts (and often violent ways of resolving them), and to establish possible analogies and comparisons with current situations and current political, social, and cultural crises. The study of contemporary identity politics and contemporary negotiations of minoritarian identities in the arts, particularly new forms of representation and media, will complement the cluster. Examples are afro-brasilidade in music/video clips, new documentary and fictional audiovisual forms, and the transformation of the literary field via saraus, slams, and circulation on the internet: the openness and processual character of blogs resemble the kiosk literature and the literatura de cordel developed in the 19th century.

RA Medialities of Conviviality


 

Further reading

#2 [Hi]Stories of Conviviality:

The [Hi]Stories of Conviviality Research Area focuses on the question of how convivial configurations evolve and interact to bring about changes in convivial regimes, favouring a diachronic approach without limiting itself to it.

For example, many of us address legal frameworks and how they shape convivial configurations and regimes, and how they interact with informal or extra-legal arrangements. One prominent field of inquiry into these problems is labour relations: forced labour arrangements and resistance to it in colonial settings; informal and formal labour and their relationship in historical and contemporary Latin America. Another field consists of the legal settings and everyday negotiations of legitimacy and illegitimacy in family formation and their connection with social hierarchies and group formation. Finally, we inquire into everyday encounters in Latin America’s heterogeneous urban populations; we ask how men and women, descendants of Africans, Indigenous, and Europeans as well as mixed-raced, or citizens and new-comers manoeuvre through historically grown power hierarchies. In all our research projects, the tensions between norms (socio-political, legal, moral, or economic) and convivial realities and practices play an important role.

In the study of the tensions between norms and realities, we use a broad conception of norms and law, rather than reducing them to the legislation of the Crown or the State. They include customs, local legal rules, learned and vernacularized knowledge in different locations, as well as judicial and extrajudicial binding decisions. Law is not just based on explicit rules and knowledge but is dependent on implicit social rules and tacit knowledges. Norms are contested and change.

One of our main questions is how normative orders are formed locally and how they affect conviviality and inequality in different social settings. Law and other normativities mediate the practices of self-identification and identification by others that trigger categories, markers of difference, symbols, memories, and ideas. How do legal and other normative categories shape subjectivities, the boundaries of the dynamic identification of social groups and the definitions of membership?

«One of our main questions is how normative orders are formed locally and how they affect conviviality and inequality in different social settings.»

Cultural, social, and economic differences are frequently mediated by legal categories. Fiscality and fiscal categorizations are a valuable source to historically analyse social differences and inequalities, especially at the intersection of social and geographical mobility. Imperial formations created tangible legal differences between groups that had practical effects on the daily lives, social positions, and the labour force of individuals, dependent on the fiscal category to which they had been ascribed.

However, over time, fiscal and sociocultural categorizations did not entirely coincide. Attempts to manipulate one’s affiliation to a certain fiscal category, which turned such categorization into a strategic resource, have happened. Changes in social categorization were mostly successful in the context of spatial mobility, namely, migration, and they were closely linked to conviviality, since changes in categorization happened especially in places where people of different categories lived and worked together.

After the fall of the great empires and the creation of modern nation-states, existing legal differences were mostly abolished. However, this did not mean that discrimination based on perceived differences ended – as postcolonial thinking rightly reminds us. This observation points to the importance of the study of colonial or imperial difference: it helps to understand current structures of inequality, discrimination, and racism without neglecting the fact that they were maintained and re-created in the postcolonial period.

«It is mostly not until the early twenty-first century that there have been attempts within cultural theory to programmatically understand conviviality under conditions of great social and cultural difference.»

Law and other normativities have proven to be a medium for practices of self-determination and convivial negotiations, which trigger categories and markers of difference (race/ethnicity, origin, gender, class). Furthermore, the conviviality among people that embody these differences and their intersections is also present in literary texts of this and past centuries. Our research on the nineteenth-century world of the Caribbean islands portrays them as a kaleidoscope of (post-)colonial structures and dynamics. Colonial experiences come together in a dense network within the sphere of influence of a great variety of hegemonic and peripheral systems. A look at this kaleidoscope-like world can give us new insights into the early processes of cultural globalization. Phenomena of deterritorialization – migration, circulation, and interconnections among the most diverse geographical areas – can already be observed in the Caribbean islands in the nineteenth century, where, for example, pirates and slave traders sailed back and forth between empires and continents, writers fled from one exile to the next, and illiterate peddlers served as messengers between worlds.

It is mostly not until the early twenty-first century that there have been attempts within cultural theory to programmatically understand conviviality under conditions of great social and cultural difference. These attempts have come about as a response to the unsuccessful labelling of multiculturalism or as a rejection of an essentialist concept of identity. It makes sense that the current debates on this topic include vigorous contributions by Caribbean intellectuals and intellectuals of the Caribbean diaspora. In a similar way, other projects engage more broadly with conceptualizations from the south and by ordinary inhabitants of such historically complex, heterogeneous, and unequal places. In the process, one question that is still being asked is how to grasp ethnic difference without falling back into essentialisms.

Again, changes in legal normativities set the context for fundamental changes in the convivial relations and the discourses on them. In the time spanning the years 1789 to 1888, the idea of equality launched in the French Revolution and the abolition of slavery in Cuba and Brazil, the last slaveholder societies, mark this era of fundamental social, political, and economic change.

Slavery, as the most extreme form of bonded labour, was at the centre of the debate in the nineteenth century. Other forms of bonded labour and resulting inequalities are still pressing problems in socio-economic and political debates today. The second wave of globalization around 1900, the inclusion of Latin American economies in the capitalist global economy, and mass migration also affected labour relations.

Colourful street art of the UNESCO World Heritage port
city of Valparaiso in Chile. Image credit: Depositphoto

Beyond degrees of bondage and dependency, gender dynamics significantly shaped work relations. The inclusion of women in the industrial work force since the end of the nineteenth century went hand in hand with continuing high levels of informal female work in petty trade and domestic service, but also with the creation of a new model of female honour and reproductive tasks. The recognition of care as work highlights the gendered inequalities of reproductive work. The recognition of unpaid work, which is predominantly female and encompasses the entire life cycle, had to wait until the crisis of Fordism-Taylorism in the developed countries for a conceptual break to emerge and for it to be recognized as real work. In addition to the theoretical-methodological perspective, care work brings the everyday, work and family life — a privileged convivial context — to the fore.

All these historical processes reverberate in today’s complex urban social fabrics of Latin American cities and their hinterlands. Gender, origin, race/ethnicity, legal, and class classifications play out and intersect in formal and informal encounters. These encounters are framed by the state and its apparatus, the market and competing ideologies, kinship and family, urban infrastructures and ecologies, and the informality of everyday convivial regimes. Urban encounters, structured by historically grown hierarchies and inequalities, continuously afford situations of conflict and cooperation.

«Urban encounters, structured by historically grown hierarchies and inequalities, continuously afford situations of conflict and cooperation.»

The notion of informality has been helpful to bring together the unknown and the inexplicable, comfortably and without explanation. If informality was born to describe the economy of the poor, it is now expanding to the top of the pyramid, where governments, on the way to informalization, deregulate, privatize public functions, and hand over the management and laundering of money to tax havens, greedy for speculation; where big capital captures politics and companies subcontract, informalize, make employment more flexible and precarious. These topics remain among the important issues to be explored in Latin America today: the work of care workers, informal work, the work of undocumented migrants, payed domestic workers. Other topics are the future of work in the face of automation and robotics, the digitalization of work, the potential of green jobs, and the work of young people.

Alongside aspects of race, class, and origin, the subjects of care and informality have highlighted the importance of gender relations and discourses for the study of conviviality. Theories on gender as a relational, flexible concept, as something that is staged or performed, directly lead to our concept of conviviality. Gender, as the most fundamental and early human categorization penetrates all social relations. Recent historical research on the nineteenth century, when women were still excluded from political citizenship rights and civil codes has shown, how women used changes brought about by the liberal ideas of economy and society in their favour. In particular, the changes in the concept of honour from a corporative to a civic one and the resulting social and civil positioning of men and women were not as clear as it might seem from the normative perspectives. Historical perspectives on women´s economic activities and their role as heads of households also speak of different convivial settings than those depicted by normative sources. How men and women negotiated these roles, how the state reacted or tolerated these family arrangements, is another important topic of gender and family studies that will enrich our research area.

RA [Hi] Stories of Conviviality

 


 

Further reading

#1 Conviviality-Inequality: A New Horizon for Interdisciplinary Work

Studies on conviviality-inequality at Mecila aim at offering an open platform for innovation in interdisciplinary cooperation in the broad field of the humanities and social sciences.

Marcos Nobre and Sergio Costa

The term conviviality was introduced in the human sciences by the Viennese philosopher Ivan Illich in his 1973 book Tools for Conviviality. On that occasion, Illich chaired the Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, an ecumenical and plural space where the ideals of global solidarity of the Latin American left and the libertarian values of European critical thinking converged. Illich’s book combines these influences by transforming conviviality into a research and action program for the building of more democratic, equal, and sustainable societies. Since then, and more clearly since the 2000s, studies on conviviality have spread to various disciplines and thematic fields, from anthropology and sociology to geology and computer sciences, turning conviviality into a polysemic term.

Inequality is also a multifaceted and multilevel notion. Inequalities can be material, but there are also inequalities of power, of access to environmental resources and protection against manufactured risks, of rights, of epistemic possibilities, and of social positions and conditions. Researchers understand inequality as a pervasive characteristic of social life, a background for understanding any given context of social action. Inequalities are thus both structural and (re)produced within daily interactions. Understanding social life in its many aspects and shapes requires understanding how it is constituted by inequality.

For the research team at the Maria Sibylla Merian International Centre Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America (Mecila for short), the polysemic feature of conviviality is always understood in association with the multidimensional elements of inequality, enhancing their explicative force. The hyphen in the Centre’s name (“Conviviality-Inequality”) stresses the intimate nexus between inequality and conviviality and the fact that they are reciprocally constituted. To research inequality is to research conviviality, and vice-versa.

The bridging of these two notions forms the basis for the interdisciplinary collaboration taking place at Mecila. Developed in various thematic fields, studies on conviviality-inequality at the Centre aim at offering an open platform for innovation in interdisciplinary cooperation in the broad field of the humanities and social sciences. We want to provide an intellectual and academic environment in which different disciplines can develop their research in collaborative empirical work, theoretical synthesis, and relational methods that go beyond usual disciplinary boundaries. Accordingly, Mecila is an open space for academic experimentation that challenges the methodological nationalism, anthropocentrism, and Eurocentrism that are deeply embedded in our disciplines.

Based in São Paulo, Mecila is a network of outstanding Latin American and German academic institutions: the University of São Paulo and CEBRAP (Brazil); El Colegio de México (Mexico); Instituto de Investigaciones en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales (CONICET/ Argentina); and Freie Universität Berlin, University of Cologne, and the Ibero-American Institute (Germany). The Centre offers a stimulating intellectual environment for interdisciplinary reflection, based on research developed in Latin America.

There are not many examples of institutions dedicated to studying in an integrated way and translating in theoretical terms the diverse social experiences of Latin America. The best-known case was the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC/CEPAL), created in 1948. Under the intellectual leadership of Raúl Prebisch, ECLAC focused from the 1950s to the 1970s on Latin American economic and social-developmental theory. ECLAC’s mission was to promote democracy and social justice in a mostly unfavorable context. As we know, its influence and theoretical reach went far beyond the limits of the region.

Not many institutions have exerted such a lasting and far-reaching influence on the intellectual and institutional history of a region. These were times when the theory of modernization, rephrased by researchers at ECLAC, maintained its unquestioned global hegemony, ensuring a high degree of theoretical convergence and the persistence of ECLAC’s influence.

Today, given the current mood of theoretical and institutional pluralism, it is somewhat likely that similar efforts will be more successful when undertaken not by a single institution but within an international network of researchers and institutes. Such a system should reflect the varied social experience of its members and promote analytic pluralism. It should also include new forms of cooperation capable of overcoming or at least mitigating the regional, generational, ethnic, class, and gender hierarchies that mark so deeply the conventional circuits of knowledge production and circulation. Developing new formats for transdisciplinary collaboration between academic and non-academic connoisseurs (shamans, activists, artists, community leaders, etc.) is also crucial if it comes to produce sophisticated and socially relevant knowledge.

«We want to provide an intellectual and academic environment in which different disciplines can develop their research in collaborative empirical work, theoretical synthesis, and relational methods that go beyond usual disciplinary boundaries.»

We at Mecila believe we can make a unique contribution, even if a modest one, to the much-needed process of institutional building in Latin America. Mecila shares with ECLAC a commitment to democracy, which is integral to its research program. For achieving our academic and institutional goals, close cooperation with international institutions based in Latin America, such as the Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO) and the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), is essential. Also, cooperation with the other four Merian Centres (in New Delhi, Guadalajara, Accra, and Tunis) is indispensable for shaping our transregional perspective.

For Mecila’s very open institutional purposes, conviviality-inequality refers to constellations constituted by difference, conflict, violence, and domination. In this sense, the conviviality-inequality compound names less the starting point than the (possible, expected, potential) research findings that may emerge when looking at reality from the perspectives developed at our Centre. Conviviality-inequality corresponds to a view of the world that searches for structural elements of existing patterns of coexistence. For this reason, it is also a theoretical and empirical research tool for overcoming the rigid categories of the contemporary debate on living together in plural and unequal contexts.

Neither a concept nor a theory or method, conviviality-inequality is an approach under construction, a permanent work in progress. Therefore we see a normative a priori concept of conviviality as unnecessary, even though we do not condemn those who wish to embrace one.

For our 2020-21 term, Marcos Nobre and Sérgio Costa are the Centre’s directors; Gloria Chicote and Barbara Potthast are the co-directors and follow the Centre’s activities from their home institutions. We expected a very lively and intense exchange in-situ between researchers of the Centre and fellows who would come to São Paulo for long research stays. The pandemic forced our conversation to go digital. We have learned a lot from these limitations and developed new cooperation formats, including virtual colloquia, remote research modes, and virtual public events involving Mecila’s researchers, practitioners, and the fellows who will integrate the project starting August 2020. We hope that novel and essential insights will emerge from this collaboration, helping to unravel the complex nexus conviviality-inequality.

Marcos Nobre (CEBRAP, Brazil) is Mecila’s Director for 2020-21.

Sérgio Costa (FU Berlin) is Mecila’s Director for 2020-21.


 

Further reading