Nordic status given to Latin American studies institute

The Institute of Latin American Studies at Sweden’s Stockholm University has been given Nordic status in the hope of creating a platform for Nordic collaboration in Latin American studies and to serve as a bridge between Latin-American, Nordic and other universities globally with a Latin American focus.

The inauguration of the Nordic Institute of Latin American Studies (NILAS) on 4 March was attended by several Latin American ambassadors to Sweden, representatives from the Finnish, Spanish and French embassies and representatives from the Swedish and Danish foreign ministries.

In a speech at the inauguration, Professor Benedicte Bull, chair of the NILAS board, said: “There is a need for an institute that can strengthen the relations not between individual researchers or countries and Latin America, but between the Nordic research communities and Latin America as a whole.

“NILAS was born out of a desire of giving Latin America studies a stronger Nordic identity, not to make them less ‘Latin’, but perhaps less influenced by other global powerhouses. It will be about creating a mutual understanding, a space for debating social developments, and creating a counterweight to ever more polarising narratives about what Latin America is and means to us, and what the Nordic countries are and can mean to everyone.”

The NILAS board is comprised of the chair, Professor Bull of the Centre for Development and the Environment at the University of Oslo; the director of the Institute, Professor Andrés Rivarola Puntigliano; Professor of Spanish Literature at Stockholm University, Ken Benson; Professor Maria Clara Medina of the University of Gothenburg; Professor Jussi Pakkasvirta of the University of Helsinki and Professor Georg Wink of the University of Copenhagen.

Rivarola Puntigliano said: “The objective is that the institute will become a platform for the institutionalisation of Nordic collaboration in the field of Latin American studies and the identification of synergies.

“This involves research, education and collaboration between, in the first instance, Latin American and Nordic countries, but also between our Nordic centres and universities and institutes in other parts of the world that focus on Latin America. The US is an important element, but interest in Latin America is increasing significantly in, for example, China and South Korea.”

Masters programme

One example of collaboration is the recently started masters programme on Latin America and Europe in a Global World, pitched at the advanced level in political science and the humanities and focusing on the relationship between Europe and Latin America, supported by Erasmus+.

The first semester takes place at the University of Salamanca, Spain, and includes a series of introductory courses on Latin America and Europe. The second semester is held at the Institute of Latin American Studies at Stockholm University, with a focus on sustainable development and challenges for Latin America in a global world. The third semester takes place at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris. During the fourth semester the students will take part in field work or an internship.

“The purpose of the programme is to provide a broad knowledge of Latin America, its history, social, political and economic structures. The programme aims to increase the understanding of the region in a global context, especially regarding its relationship with Europe,” said Rivarola Puntigliano.

“The goal is to understand historical processes, contemporary challenges and visions, about the world in Latin America and Latin America in the world. There has been a great interest in the programme and we are happy to participate in this European collaboration,” he said.

Third pillar

Benedicte Bull said the idea of a Nordic institute for Latin America studies is not new. It was first launched in 1968 by the Nordic Council and was to be the third pillar of the Nordic institutes: the Africa institute was already established in Uppsala, the Asia institute in Copenhagen, and the Latin America institute was planned to be in Oslo.

That never happened because Norwegian politicians and researchers did not think that the tiny group of Latin America researchers in Norway at the time were able to pull it off.

She said it was therefore the realisation of a dream held for half a century, and she credited the “relentless energy” of Rivarola Puntigliano for making it happen.

In her speech Bull accounted for the many initiatives that had been taken at the Nordic level decade by decade since the 1960s to establish a common Nordic platform for Latin American studies but without success. She outlined how these efforts towards greater Nordic collaboration were dependent on the political events in the region and the world.

President of Stockholm University Professor Astrid Söderbergh Widding said that the Institute of Latin American Studies had for a long time helped raise the profile of Stockholm University and Rivarola Puntigliano was number two on the list of Stockholm University researchers appearing most frequently in the media last year.

She also said that the institute’s new Nordic status would further strengthen research and teaching and that NILAS would become a Nordic hub for Latin American issues.

50,000 titles

Among the resources NILAS provides is a special library for social science research and Latin American studies built up by its predecessor, the Institute for Latin American Studies, which is open to the public, and literature can be borrowed, except for reference works, journals and some textbooks.

The library’s collection includes more than 50,000 titles in history, politics, economy, anthropology and other social sciences, making it the biggest collection of literature in the Nordic region dealing with Latin America from a social science perspective. The institute also has a collection of Latin American literature in original language, and literature on art history, literature and music.

European theses, including Swedish and Latin American theses, can be found in the database REDIAL-Tesis. Newer theses can be found in their complete format on the DiVA portal.

As part of the inaugural activities, a panel discussion was also held in Aula Magna auditorium at Stockholm University on 5 March with the Chilean feminist collective LASTESIS and Professor Merike Blofield of the University of Hamburg on feminism in Latin America.