The purpose of the projet INCASI - International Network for Comparative Analysis of Social Inequalities - is to conduct comparative research in the area of social inequalities, in this case in relation to Europe and Latin America. Through this network we hope to foster a space for collective reflection and the development of synergies between network partners that allow us to undertake innovative studies whose outputs have an impact on academic and policy debates on the subject. The project will also contribute to informing the design of public policies to tackle social inequalities. In so doing, we aim to contribute innovative solutions that improve citizens’ living standards, reduce social inequalities and promote social justice. This is in line with Horizon 2020’s objectives which state that “current trends at play in European societies bring with them opportunities for a more united Europe but also risks and challenges.These opportunities, risks and challenges need to be understood and anticipated in order for Europe to evolve with adequate solidarity and cooperation at social, economic, political, educational and cultural levels, taking into account an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world” (Official Journal of the European Union, 2013).
The European social landscape during the second half of the twenty century was characterized by fundamental social, political and economic changes which led to high levels of socio-economic welfare provision and social cohesion. This landscape has more recently been transformed as a result of the 2007-2008 economic crisis which has led to the emergence of a range of social and economic problems. These have resulted in more unequal social realities that have tended to persist among Europe’s increasingly globalized and open market economies. The crisis has in turn contributed to the appearance of new forms of social organization that are responding to volatile and less predictable social and economic contexts. Within the new context, people tend to adopt strategies to cope with these less stable and predictable times compared to those of their more secure pasts. The presence of the state’s safety net is currently less prevalent and is constantly under political scrutiny in ways that have not been witnessed before. Understanding these strategies and their outcomes requires new analytical and methodological approaches that can capture their nature and scope as well as their overall capacity to respond to the new environment. Many authors refer to this situation as one of uncertainty and precariousness, and this necessarily raises questions about the vulnerability that certain groups currently face along with growing social inequalities more generally in contemporary European society.
In contrast, some Latin American countries which have been historically characterized by long-term economic instability and decline have begun to implement more inclusive and proactive public policies. These are based on the allocation of citizenship rights and the provision of resources to different social actors that were previously ignored by the state as a subject of public policy. In particular, this has occurred in the first 15 years of the XXI Century following a period that was dominated by the hegemony of neo-liberal ideas (1980-1990s) in most countries within the region. The new wave of entitlements for many people in Latin American include support for chronically unemployed people, pensioners (with no history of social contributions), housewives, the
chronically ill, children (e.g. whose parents do not have a stable and formal income) and the like. While we recognize that the process is far from universal and does not apply to any single vulnerable group in across all Latin American states (indeed far from it), it is one that must be examined. Such policies have sought to overcome structurally embedded social inequalities which have been long ignored and that from our perspective have positively influenced the development of the region as a whole. It is also important to recognise that the recurring periods of crisis and uncertainty in Latin America have endowed its people with certain survival mechanisms that have allowed them to get by in such adverse contexts and that are worthy of investigation. In this way, understanding can be acquired for from their experience that is of use to affected citizens in Western Europe as until recently most people had not been exposed to such extreme experiences of destitution and uncertainty since the end of World War II.
Recognizing and understanding the new social models that are being developed in the global North and the global South - particularly in Western Europe and Latin America - is regarded as a very important issue for academics and policy makers because of their potential impacts upon the general population. This calls for the need to generate a new framework for comparative analysis through which these new social models can be understood and examined. This must be conducted within the respective political, economic and social contexts in which they have emerged, and only then may lessons be extrapolated. INCASI project thus also seeks to understand the specificities and common elements of social behaviour that are observable among individuals and groups. This analysis will be sensitive to the different welfare states models in which they are embedded as well as the socio-economic background and cultural context where people live. Attention will be also placed on the differentiated social resources and strategies for action that individuals and groups deploy through their working life cycle and within different national contexts.
In order to do this, we propose the development of innovative measurement techniques and methodologies to best understand the problem of social inequalities under this new political, economic and social context. Thus the intent is to generate harmonized data for diagnosing specific situations in different regions and countries such as those in Europe and Latin America. Hence it is necessary to consider the complexity of the different issues that concern structural and relational conditions of social inequality and that can only be captured and compared through multidimensional and interdisciplinary approaches like the one portrayed below. This university consortium combines diverse research interests and perspectives that will allow us to study new forms of social inequalities and responses to this in a holistic way. This will in turn, allow us to deepen our knowledge of the strategies and life, work and educational trajectories that individuals and groups have adopted to cope with uncertainty and destitution. It will also heighten understanding of the emerging social models that result from such practices and so permit us to develop explanatory mechanisms of operation. From these, relevant conclusions will be drawn for academic reflection so as to generate proposals for the design of innovative public policies in response.
From this perspective, the whole project is structured on the basis of the following four pillars:
1) Substantive background and explanatory models of social inequalities;
2) Methodology for the analysis of social inequalities;
3) Social policies to counteract social inequalities;
4) Gender inequalities’ transversal perspective.
The proposal in turn comprises eight thematic axes:
1) Inequalities in the labour market and labour trajectories;
2) Asymmetries in the relationship between training and employment.;
3) Inequalities in work and family life;
4) Educational inequalities;
5) Geographical and social inequalities: ethnicity and language;
6) Social inequalities, migration and space;
7) Uncertainty, strategies, resources and capabilities;
8) Inequality of opportunity: intergenerational social mobility.
These four pillars are conceived from two points of view: from existing and developed contributions by the literature and participating research groups, as well as from the contribution that the INCASI network can generate, in terms of innovation, in each of the thematic structuring the project. The INCASI network combines research centres and researchers from 19 universities and 9 countries (5 European and 4 Latin American), with a long tradition of analysing social inequalities from diverse facets, which we have structured in 8 thematic axes. The intellectual capital is put at service of an innovative project based on the synergy of collaborative, reflexive, active and creative work. The project has started in January 2016. The Principal Investigator is Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona while the Università degli Studi di Milano-Principal Investigator is professor Renata Semenza.