Coping with Environmental Crises

Environmental crises and natural disasters are regarded as central catalysts of social change in Latin America. The subcontinent suffers from the cyclically recurring impact of El Niño (responsible for droughts, heavy rain, and hurricanes) and is located in a tectonically active zone. Moreover, since the colonial period, the region’s relationship with nature has been mainly extraction-oriented, leading to regular human-induced environmental crises and related socio-environmental conflicts. The drastic increase in the exploitation of natural resources in the region to meet a growing global hunger for commodities has long ceased to be regarded as a purely economic strategy. Instead, constructive debates about ‘neo-extractivism’ in Latin America note the ongoing evolution of a new, comprehensive system for social regulation; one which has profound effects on society, politics, and the environment.

The research group exploring socio-environmental transformation will focus primarily on

a) the current and historical dynamics of extractivist models,

b) political and social strategies of adaptation and forms of resilience vis-á-vis growing environmental problems, and

c) innovative proposals supporting a fundamental change in human-environment interactions – from the establishment of protected areas to the current post-growth debate around the concept of Buen Vivir. Analyses of these proposals will be based on the premise that “natural” disasters – characterized by suddenness and unexpectedness – often either expose or reinforce socio-political and socio-economic problems, which – in many cases – have historically evolved over long periods of time. On this basis, the research of this group will explore the political and cultural foundations of the conceptualization of the environment and nature, their cultural and socio-economic consequences, and alternative proposals.