Polarización socioambiental y rivalidad entre grandes potencias
Among the enormous challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean in the 21st century, three that are intimately linked stand out for the LASA Congress in 2022: environmental destruction and climate change, socioeconomic polarization, and rivalry between the great powers that in one way or another affect the region. Environmental destruction and climate change have been accelerating since the mid-twentieth century, but took on a new impetus with the turn of the twenty- first century. In our region, these phenomena have been closely linked to the new commodity boom and deepening extractivism, both in mining and agriculture. Although this new boom facilitated the emergence of self-proclaimed leftist governments, their social programs were focused on alleviating poverty, but rarely tried to modify the productive structures that generate it and deepen inequality. Ideally, in our congress we should make contributions that account for both environmental destruction and for the new models and practices which might allow its transcendence.
Socioeconomic polarization, unfortunately, is one of the most distinctive features of the region, something that has worsened in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here we are referring to economic and social inequality, which is expressed in forms of discrimination based on social class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc. In many cases, polarization has accelerated migration processes, now including climate migration, exacerbating conflict caused by struggles over land, water and by racism as new groups come into contact with each other.
Finally, the growing trade competition and rivalry between the United States and China puts Latin America in a complicated situation. On the one hand, its traditional trading partner, the United States, has always been a dominant power that seeks to get the most out of the region and has no qualms about intervening in its political processes. On the other hand, China is now emerging with a significant presence in all imaginable spheres. How should Latin American countries deal with this rivalry in a way that minimizes conflict and maximizes the advantages for their populations? Politicians and scholars in the region could play a mediating role to promote cooperation between the powers. But, successfully confronting the climate challenge requires that Latin America increases its industrial autonomy based on the sustainable use of resources.
To address the issues outlined above, we propose five special tracks where the latest research on these core issues can be raised and discussed.
- Extraction and appropriation by multinationals and states: Rising levels of national and private debt go hand in hand with accelerating levels of extraction and appropriation. How do multilateral trade and investment treaties affect the flow of materials and energies from Latin America to the U.S. and China? How do private and public actors affect deforestation, land grabbing, mining, and legal and illegal logging? What forms of rent extraction accompany intellectual property rights and emerging virtual economies?
- Toxic presents and future imaginaries: The culture of the anthropocene or capitalocene implies a globalized toxicity. Toxicity is normalized as a necessary price for economic growth. The damage it inflicts is slow and invisible and unevenly distributed. The bodies of plants, animals and humans mutate, sicken and die under the impact of toxic substances and pathogens. What are the histories of these bodies and the narratives of toxic flows and pathogenic transmissions, such as the present pandemic of COVID-19? How does toxicity disrupt existing orders and life forms, while maintaining life forms at other scales? How do humans and non- humans adapt to and resist toxic conditions? What toxic discourses justify toxic economies?
- Rivalry among great powers: At least since 2010, the rivalry between the United States and the People’s Republic of China has become more generalized and intensified. This conflictive competition has significant effects on third countries and regions. There is practically no field of social sciences that is not involved and affected by its tensions and growing rupture. What are the conditions of this rivalry and what impact has it generated in the new Latin American infrastructures, mining and consumption? What is its relevance for the future in Latin America and the Caribbean and its environmental impact?
- Political ecologies and new environmental thought: Political ecology, the study of power relations that cut across the socio-environmental field, has emerged in Latin America as a central interdisciplinary field for thinking about society/environment relations. How do disputes between knowledge systems and ways of being in the world come together with questions of environmental justice and injustice, class, race, and social costs for future generations as industrial production, infrastructure, and consumption drift to destroy the very basis of urban and rural livelihoods? How does political ecology integrate the challenges posed by the new rivalry in the global economy?
- Polarization and development models: Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has been one of the regions most affected by the implementation of the neoliberal development model since the 1980s, with some important exceptions. One of its most significant characteristics, in addition to the export orientation of its productive apparatus, has been its profound impact on polarization at the level of households, companies, sectors and regions within the countries themselves. Since then, alternative intellectual, social and political movements, also under socio-ecological, anti-neoliberal, post-neoliberal or socialism of the 21st century slogans, have also been perceived - and have been exacerbated since the beginning of the 21st century. What socioeconomic and socio-ecological effects have been generated by the strategy followed since the 1980s in some countries even earlier - and differentiating among LAC countries and regions? What experiences are relevant in the third decade of the 21st century for a discussion on alternatives?