The Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies Interdisciplinary Research Clusters

The Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies (CLALS) promotes interdisciplinary research to tackle important problems in the Americas. The Interdisciplinary Research Clusters (IRCs) are interdisciplinary research teams of two or more Penn faculty with primary affiliations in at least two different departments, and with at least one CLALS faculty affiliate, and they include include graduate and undergraduate students.

The IRCs usually prioritize the following list of research topics which is of high interest to CLALS.

1)    Indigenous Peoples, Latinx, Afrolatinidad, and systemic racism in the Americas
2)    Dispossessions of territories, bodies, and cultural heritage in the Americas
3)    Migration, social mobility, income inequality, and redistribution
4)    Public health, health as a human right, intercultural health, and access to health care
5)    Obstacles to high-quality public education
6)    Challenges to democracy in the Americas
7)    Climate change and environmental sustainability


For 2023-2024, CLALS provided the following IRCs up to $5,000 to be used during the academic year: 

Elemental Thinking: Troubling States of Matter in the Américas   

Principal Investigators

Kristina Lyons, Associate Professor, Anthropology

Jon Hawkings, Assistant Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

The elements have been taken up as a heuristic in the Arts and Sciences to understand environmental systems and change across geographical and cultural contexts. The approach to studying environments through the elements – most notably the classical elements of fire, earth, water, and air – has been foundational to the composition of Environmental Anthropology and its configurations of expertise, as well as the Environmental Sciences. However, the stakes of our current socio-ecological crises demand we engage with the elements as more than only taxonomies, statistics, and natural resources. This interdisciplinary research cluster focuses specifically on socio-environmental conflicts and justice struggles involving these elemental assemblages. Our IRC cluster engages with these pressing issues by placing the social studies of science & technology (STS), environmental law/justice, and the natural and environmental sciences in conversation through the combination of several activities: talks with invited guests and the organization of workshops and roundtables. We focus on both case studies and broad trends occurring across the hemisphere in academic scholarship, scientific knowledge production, and public praxis.

On September 21, Elizabeth Reddy of the Colorado School of Mines will present, “¡Alerta! Life with Earthquakes.” On October 5, Dr. Andrea Ballestero will physically join our IRC to present on her work on how subterranean space is being “re-discovered” in Costa Rica through remote sensing and legal technologies that transform it into a new planetary frontier. On November 14, we will virtually host Dr. Paul Merchant for a talk on “Reimagining the Pacific: Images of the Ocean in Peru and Chile 1960-present.” From March 25-29, Dr. Maka Suarez and Dr. Jorge Nuñez, founding members of the Center for Interdisciplinary Ethnography- Kaleidos at the Universidad de Cuenca, will spend a week on campus. Maka will join our IRC to give a talk on the movement of pollution in Ecuador through the local history of medicine, government-protected national parks, urban forests and rivers, brick-making factories, respiratory diseases, and air quality data networks. In February 2024, Professor Lyons will co-organize a workshop with Lecturer Kevin Burke where different scholars (Dr. Kregg Hetherington, Burke, Lyons, and others) discuss their research and community engagement around ghost forests, rivers, and wetlands that are reappearing across the Américas, and the impact that these spectral elements are having on infrastructural projects, territorial planning, and citizen-science initiatives.


Understanding Better Important Socioeconomic and Health Differences Between Indigenous and Non-indigenous Chileans Using New Regional Data

Principal Investigators

Irma Elo, Tamsen and Michael Brown Presidential Professor of Sociology

Jere Behrman, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Economics

Tulia Falleti, Class of 1965 Endowed Term Professor of Political Science

Indigenous Chileans are about a tenth of the country’s population. But they have experienced a long history of being marginalized in most dimensions of life. Relatedly there is a relatively limited research literature on their socioeconomic status and health. This is an interdisciplinary project under the supervision of Elo (Sociology, PI), Behrman (Economics), and Tulia Falleti (Political Science) designed to fill research gaps on inequalities affecting indigenous people in Chile. The project uses new regionally representative longitudinal data that were collected in 2022 and will continue to be collected during 2023 by our Chilean partners under the leadership of David Bravo (Director of the Centro de Encuestas y Estudios Longitudinales (CEEL), Catholic University of Chile) with whom we have worked for two decades. The research team members include one graduate student in demography (Magdalena Delaporte, with whom we have worked for several years while she was at CEEL) and two undergraduates (Arturo Bardales, economics major who started working with us this spring; and Zarah Meek, Systems Science & Engineering major who is starting to work with us in May). All the funding being requested from IRC/CLALS and the matching funding will be directed towards funding these students.


Con Confianza: Opening Pathways to Postsecondary Readiness for Latinx Students  

Principal Investigators

Nelson Flores, Associate Professor of Educational Linguistics,

GSE, Educational and Linguistics Division

Holly Link, Lecturer, SP2 and Social Work

Con Confianza brings together faculty and students from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Latinx families from the nonprofit community center, the Centro de Cultura, Arte, Trabajo y Educación (CCATE) in Norristown, PA, to engage in community-led, participatory action research (PAR) on postsecondary readiness for Latinx middle and high school students from low-income, immigrant, mixed-status, Spanish-speaking families who will be first generation to attend college. Based on exploratory work between Penn-CCATE in 2022- 2023, a group of Penn faculty and students, and CCATE staff, parents and youth will pilot PAR on postsecondary readiness and related issues identified by CCATE parents and youth: school violence, and the lack of support to address both students’ mental health needs and their postsecondary decision-making. Through this research to be conducted in 2023-2024, Penn and CCATE will work together not just to investigate postsecondary readiness, but also to redefine postsecondary readiness from student and parent perspectives. This project will expand upon Penn and CCATE’s existing partnerships, with the goal of drawing on families’ linguistic and cultural strengths to build and promote policies to combat unequal postsecondary outcomes for Latinx youth, and to restructure the ways in which schools and universities understand, research, and address these outcomes.