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Conference Theme

Latin American Futures

What does the future hold for Latin America? After suffering decades of violent military dictatorships, state terror and the disastrous social effects of rigid adherence to neo-liberal political and economic reforms, Latin America has undergone in recent years a series of remarkable transformations that are celebrated both within and outside the region as real possibilities for a better future. Among the most promising signs are the dynamic mass movements that have grown out of the traditionally marginalized sectors of the population to engage national elites in militant, but surprisingly peaceful and democratic negotiations on reform and the building of more representative government and state structures. Indeed, Latin America appears to be in the process of transforming itself, not only, into a launching pad for resistance to the negative effects of globalization, but as a region where important changes are being made in different areas of its already diverse and vibrant political and economic, social, and gendered cultures.

Supported by a series of favorable economic conditions, the region is now seen as the source of a series of innovations in public policy, state formation and cultural expression. Indeed, the changes in Latin America's political life, music, dance, art, film and religious expression have become adopted by European and North American youth and middle classes as the ultimate symbols of their vibrancy and liberty. However, whilst inspiring new forms of expression and debate on political alternatives across the world, most people working in and traveling to the region are also aware of the tremendous challenges still to be faced by Latin America. Extreme levels of poverty, inequality, prejudice, social instability and violence, combined with environmental hazards and contestation over land and natural resources continue to be central features of Latin American life and society. Whereas tremendous gains have been made among poor and marginalized communities, for most of the region's population a secure future (be it through the private or communal ownership of their own land, a job with a fair wage, access to health and education and equal rights) remains a distant hope. These are difficulties that, despite all the triumphalism of the anti-globalization movement, most commonly find their way into and continue to dominate the more general representations of popular media in its efforts to characterize and stereotype the region and its people.

With recognition of these persisting problems, it would appear then that questions still need to be asked about the current direction and value of recent changes in Latin American society. In this conference, we propose to invite scholars with different academic backgrounds to meet and discuss contemporary as well as historical processes in Latin America, and to look more closely at the possibilities and constraints evident in the region’s political, economic, and cultural changes, in its religious, gendered, and environmental realities. What futures are being envisaged? How are these expressed? How realistic are these futures? How are these futures conditioned by the past and by the international community? Are these futures Latin American? What reactions do these futures create both within and outside of Latin America? What value, significance, or impact do these futures have with regards to other parts of the world?