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Understanding social inequality worldwide: Volkswagen Foundation funds UoC project

The Volkswagen Foundation has granted 1.2 million euros in funding to an international research project working to understand the production and reproduction of social inequality through labor exploitation around the world. Cooperation partners come from Germany, China and Ethiopia.

A new research project at the Global South Studies Center of the University of Cologne will explore how and where social inequalities arise and persist. The Volkswagen Foundation granted the research project ‘The Production and Reproduction of Social Inequalities: Global Contexts and Concepts of Labor Exploitation,’ headed by Professors Michaela Pelican (Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology) and Ulrike Lindner (Department of History), with approximately 1.2 million euros. It will be carried out in cooperation with Professor Tu Huynh (Jinan University, Guangzhou/China) and Professor Meron Zeleke Eresso (Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia) over a period of four years.

The project will address questions such as: Which concepts and actors influence the production and reproduction of social inequalities? To what extent does the exploitation of labor play a role in the emergence and manifestation of permanent inequalities? Why have old concepts of labor exploitation resurfaced in the context of increasing global inequalities (e.g. ‘modern slavery’)?

Professor Michaela Pelican remarked: ‘The special feature of our project lies in its transdisciplinary and comprehensive approach to understanding social inequality. Many academic debates on this issue remain rooted in their respective disciplines, but we work at the interface of historical and anthropological debates about inequality, labor history, labor migration, labor exploitation and conceptual history.’

Professor Ulrike Lindner added: ‘In cooperation with colleagues from the Global South, we want to develop a fairer and more representative understanding of social inequality in the coming years by connecting the production of knowledge between South-North and South-South, thus decentering the issue and overcoming epistemic inequalities.’

The project comprises four subprojects that address the exploitation of labor in different parts of the Global South from both a historical and a contemporary perspective.

Media Contact:
Professor Michaela Pelican
Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
+49 221 470 3515

Press and Communications Team:
Dr Christine Rath
PR Officer Global South Studies Center
+49 221 93317 275