CALAS: Science cooperation in and with Latin America

The Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CALAS) in Mexico is the first and most extensive Germany-wide cooperation project with institutions from Latin America: It is run by four German in cooperation with four Latin American universities and has established itself as a successful instrument of international science cooperation.

Interview with Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Burchardt, Chair of the Department of International and Inter-Society Relations at the University of Kassel and Director of CALAS.

CALAS is part of an international network of Merian Centers in the Humanities and Social Sciences, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research, in order to strengthen scientific cooperation between Germany and one or more countries in the different regions. It started in its main phase in 2019. The University of Kassel coordinates CALAS based at the University of Guadalajara (Mexico) together with the University of Bielefeld. At CALAS interdisciplinary research teams work together: Up to 25 international fellows are invited on a rotating basis. The research focuses on social, political and ecological crises and is conducted in the four clusters "Social-ecological Transformation," "Social Inequalities," "Violence and Conflict Resolution" and "Identity”.

Within the research network, the University of Kassel coordinates an extensive research program on issues of social inequality: It deals with the areas of elite and wealth research, inequality and education as well as socio-ecological inequalities. It conducts research on the future of work in order to support an economically productive, socially compatible and ecologically sustainable transformation to fight climate chance in an international perspective. And it develops digital teaching modules on sustainable development with different Latin American partners.

Why is CALAS and the research on Latin America so important for your university? Is CALAS already one of the most important European research alliances with Latin America?

Prof. Hans-Jürgen Burchardt

Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Burchardt, Chair of the Department of International and Inter-Society Relations at the University of Kassel.

Prof. Hans-Jürgen Burchardt

For achieving the climate goals and building a sustainable economy, Latin America is a strategic partner. Thanks to CALAS, the Latin America Center CELA was established in Kassel, which in turn is a founding member of the Kassel Institute for Sustainability. Thus, the University of Kassel is now an important player in the study of climate change at the international level. CALAS is now one of the most agile research networks in Europe and enjoys a high reputation in Latin America: We do not conduct research about Latin America, but with it, and we seek joint solutions. In the region, CALAS is perceived as an important think tank and plays a significant role in Germany's image in the international community - and not only in science. CALAS is already demonstrating today how international cooperation can work tomorrow.

CALAS has proved to be a successful instrument of international scientific cooperation, especially under the challenging conditions in the partner countries in Latin America. What are the biggest challenges and how do you deal with them? Kindly give us a brief example.

A significant challenge for international research centers is to secure and make their own research visible to academia and society. The Latin American publication landscape is highly fragmented which makes this difficult: Ideas from Mexico rarely find their way to Chile and vice versa. With a consistent implementation of the open access strategy, our own essay series with locations in five countries as well as in several languages, cooperations with (Spanish- and English-language) specialized publishers and widespread media, as well as accompanying promotion measures such as podcasts, we have succeeded in achieving a gratifyingly high presence for our results throughout the whole of America and Europe.

Scientific exchange with colleagues from Latin America is central to CALAS. How has the COVID 19 pandemic affected the collaboration? Which science communication practices have proven successful?

Like most scientific institutions, CALAS has focused heavily on digitization with the onset of the pandemic. The results are well known: Digitalization reduces distances, but also creates new boundaries. For international agreements, negotiations, first meetings, etc., visual meetings have proven their worth, saving many air miles, protecting the environment and nerves. In-depth research cooperation, however, needs dialogs, joint face-to-face thinking, in order to be effective and creative. Digital teaching, on the other hand, cannot include everyone and is at best suitable for specializing a few.

We have held three in-depth digital seminars on CALAS topics which have brought together interested participants from all over Latin America and Europe. This is a good basis for further real-life collaborations. In addition, we have established a Spanish-language podcast series that allows us to broadly present and discuss our topics and publications.

Many thanks for the interesting insights, dear Prof. Burchardt!

Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CALAS)

With the Maria Sibylla Merian Centres, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) facilitates internationalization and new forms of transnational cooperation in the humanities and social sciences. In the international research centres in Mexico, Brazil, India, Ghana and Tunisia, academics from Germany, the host country and other countries in the region investigate a topic of their own choice.

The Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CALAS) is a university-based Center for Advanced Studies. It is based on the cooperation of several Latin American and German universities. The University of Guadalajara, Mexico, houses the head office of CALAS while three regional offices are located at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Quito, Ecuador; the Universidad de Costa Rica in San José, Costa Rica; and the Universidad Nacional San Martín in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The German Universities Bielefeld, Kassel, Hanover and Jena are responsible for the project management. In addition, numerous other universities and research facilities from all over Latin America are associated with CALAS.