current PhD projects

Alexandra Bechtum

 “El agua vale más que el oro” – Social and political consequences of industrial gold mining in Peru and Argentina

After the turn of the century, Latin America experienced a mining boom. In particular, metals saw an historic price increase and a higher demand on a global scale. Countries with and without a long tradition of mining consequently adjusted their economic and political structures to promote mining activities, the mining sector has hence seen a significant increase in foreign capital investment in mining exploration and production levels. As the extraction of raw materials takes place in large-scale open-pit mining projects, also known as megaminería, the process requires immense quantities of capital, technology, chemical substances and water. The expansion of this new type of industrial mining goes hand in hand with complex social processes and practices, thus challenging the countries of the subcontinent in multiple ways.
Departing from empirical case studies in Peru and Argentina, this dissertation project seeks to analyse how the expansion of large-scale industrial gold mining has impacts on the local scale. Due to its crucial importance during the recent mining boom as well as intensifying levels of conflicts in mine-affected localities, gold and its mode of production in open-pit mining operations is paradigmatic for the intensification of the export-oriented mining model in Latin America but also in other regions of the Global South. Taking different traditions of mining into account, this project will analyse to what extent recent socio-spatial and socio-political transformation processes of the mining expansion have changed socio-economic structures, and investigates the degree to which they have (re-) configured social practices and conflict dynamics on the local scale. The study will give insight into specific society-state relations and aims at developing a deeper understanding of social and political change in Latin America.


Joaquín Bernáldez

Socio-ecological conflicts in Northern Patagonia, Argentina: Cultural reconfigurations in an oil-extractivist society?

In the last decades there has been an intensification of socio-ecological conflicts in Latin America. This responds to the advancing frontier of natural resource extraction for export as well as to the emergence of social movements claiming the right to access nature in a communitarian and democratic way. These disputes tend to produce local debates about the benefits and harmful effects of large-scale natural resource extraction projects. In the case of Argentina one of the most emblematic projects aims at extracting unconventional hydrocarbons in northern Patagonia, where not only the environmental consequences of using methods such as fracking but also the economic and social effects of hydrocarbons exploitation are a matter of controversy. The doctoral project addresses the relation between conflicts revolving around hydrocarbons extraction in the region and the constitution of subjectivities among young people. In particular, the study analyzes how the model of development based on hydrocarbons extraction is legitimized and the role played by recent conflicts in the perceptions of young people concerning work, the future and the environment.


Philip Fehling

Tax reform in Latin America
Social and political determinants of fiscal redistribution

Recently there has been increased interest in analysing the Latin-American tax systems with emphasis on distributional justice. The corresponding studies have usually focused on tax structure and redistributional effects of certain types of taxes in this region from a financial perspective. In contrast, there has been little research on the political economy of tax systems.
Hence, this doctoral thesis project deals with the subject of taxes in Latin America from a fiscal-sociological angle.  It considers tax systems as a specific expression of the social distribution of power, which is reflected in the outcomes of “fiscal fights”. It is assumed that the margin of fiscal state revenue (which is structurally restricted by the succesful accumulation of capital) is  concretised historically by social and political conflicts that provide information about the particular balance of power and the redistributional obstructions.
Following these assumptions this project systematically traces tax reform processes (their emergence, adoption and implementation) by an analysis of political positions, actor’s conflicts and the locus of authority: the politics of tax reform. In the first instance, this analysis will be conducted by completing a statistical inquiry of economic, political and fiscal correlations which simultaneously help in the selection of the case studies for a qualitative comparative analysis.


Paul Hecker

New Labour Policies in Brazil. Informality and Inequality in Focus?

Informality and extreme inequality of income and wealth distribution are structural problems in Latin America and especially Brazil. These problems are shaped by the regionally and socially concentrated economic development as well as by colonial heritage. The Gini coefficient as an inequality index provided a value of 55 for Brazil in 2007, while the richest 10% of income receivers had 43% and the lowest 10% only 1.1% of all national income. Another important source for inequality is informality of employment conditions, which currently affects approximately 45% of all economically active people. The so called informal economy is been examined since the 1970s from several analytical perspectives and with different concepts regarding problems and their definitions. The lack of access to social political protection and benefits is seen in this academic discussion as a key criteria. Thus, the research project will investigate, how recent labour policies as a part of social policies lead to integration or exclusion of informal activity. Labour policies play an important role for income distribution and thus in the generation of inequality since they influence and regulate labour markets. A systematic analysis of the complex relationship among inequality-informality-labour policy shall thus allow developing a better understanding of the causes leading to extreme inequality in Brazil.


Timm Benjamin Schützhofer

A New Deal in the Andes? Ecuador’s Citizen’s Revolution as a Challenge for Rent Theory

The current political and economic changes in Ecuador, a country whose main exports are petroleum and agricultural goods, are often seen in the context of a development model that is called Neo-Extractivism. This model is seen as a fragile equilibrium: While the extractive-rent is more equitably distributed, a new dynamic of socio-ecological conflicts is becoming apparent. From a rent-theory perspective the negative effects of natural-resource dependence on the ability to diversify the economy and to decrease the dependence on foreign markets as well as on the will and ability of governments to develop a solid tax-system are emphasized.
However since 2007 Ecuador has witnessed important changes in its tax policies and first steps in the construction of a more progressive tax system, all that despite relatively high revenues from natural resources. In this context, I shall analyze in how far and based on which strategies has the petroleum exporting country Ecuador been able to break the rentier-state dynamic by increasing the tax-based revenues of the public sector and by taking steps towards a fairer distribution of the tax burden.


Nico Weinmann

Social and labour Policy in Latin America: The Case of Domestic Work in Argentina and Uruguay

Almost all Latin American countries are still marked by extreme forms of social inequality. In the last decade, there was a significant shift in the political landscape, which was reflected by the implementation of various reforms of social and labour policies in many Latin American countries. It is highly significant whether or not the reforms succeed in integrating particularly precarious and often statistically “invisible” groups; for example, domestic workers, who are mainly women, and migrants who are overrepresented in the informal economy. By comparing recent processes of political reform in the field of domestic work in Argentina and Uruguay, this PhD project aims at elucidating the connection between inequality and policy in Latin America. The analysis locates labour and social policy in the ‘tension zone’ constituted by the requirements of economic reproduction, and demands for democratic legitimacy and the relative autonomy of the state. From this vantage point, the project will examine which mechanisms, institutions, and constellations of actors block or activate the potential for redistribution and social inclusion, which are intrinsic in recent processes of political reform.

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