The fields of anthropology of the Americas and Latin American Studies, historical science, political science, sociology and economic science at the LAI see themselves as bound to their respective disciplines as well as inter-disciplinary dialogue and co-operation. In common they are committed to developing breadth in historical perspective and depth in their accounts of complex cultural and intercultural processes and diverging perceptions. Self-consciously, these disciplines have researched phenomena that cross the boundaries of classical disciplines and challenge traditional disciplinary thinking, but through this process, also strengthen the traditional disciplines.
The design and form of the individual disciplines and their co-operation has been advanced considerably by the participation of women and the contributions of gender research, including vital contributions in the areas of theory and method.
The LAI is strongly interested in the critical discussion and evaluation of proposals and practices of development policies, and especially those featuring theoretical reflections and politics.
Subject formation and relationships to the object of study have differently shaped the disciplines and their relationships to their context.
Similar to cultural and social anthropology, Anthropology of the Americas is an inter-disciplinary field combining archeology, ethnic-history and ethnology in order to comprehend adequately societies that have left few or no written historical records and offer instead cultural and social evidence that is amenable to modern historical sciences, sociology, political science, economic science and Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies.
While based on western European philology, the discipline of Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies increasingly turns to cultural studies in order to address trans-boundary processes.
Such traditional analytical categories as the “culto/popular” (“high culture/popular culture”) dichotomy prove inadequate to the task of understanding modernity's fragmentation in such areas as literary and artistic production and distribution, the advance of world literature, as well as shifts in culture's location across cities and national borders.
As in the “estudios culturales” in Latin America and the USA, such developments have led since the 90's to a change of perspective of the literatures and cultures of Latin America.
The 1970's theories of dependence and 1980's analyses of “others” and “oneself” have proven inadequate to an understanding of the multi-layered cultural dynamics of Latin America.
The examination Latin American literature and iconography since the Conquista, over the colonial age, and the creation of nations up to the 20th century are presently viewed differently in light of contemporary research on the boundaries of literary and theory (especially boundary genres), border trespassing (also in the aesthetic sense of parody), cultural negotiation processes, processes of exclusion and inclusion (also in the sense of canon formation and the draft of aesthetic theories), questions of representation forms and identity constructions in narratives in their ethnic, gender, political, and social dimensions.
Examination of the baroque appears as a potentially fruitful object of study. Such reference points and culture-theoretical concepts as “heterogeneity”, “borderlands”, “border workers” “hybridism”, “trans-acculturation” or the “Creolité” appear relevant for the study of developments in Latin American, modernity and associated cultural dynamics. These concerns correspond to those of current gender theories focusing on questions of gender constructs in the context of cultural dynamics.
Relationships among different Latin American literatures and cultures (including those produced in the USA) as well as the culture-theoretical debate of Latin Americans (even if they partly live and work in the USA and Europe) constitute a “Latin America” interactive sphere. At the same time, however, the variety of cultural dynamics and linguistic processing forms calls for a diversification in the subjects of Hispanic American Studies (including Hispanic US-American literature), Brazilian studies and Caribbean studies as well as cooperation with Anthropology of the Americas and Roman philology.
For the historical sciences, recent reconstructions of Latin America history have indicated the limits of established concepts and methods. Traditional Latin American historiography concentrated primarily on the dominant, non-Indian population both in the colonial age and nation states, and the ethnic-historical investigation of indigenous populations was considered elsewhere -- as part of the Anthropology of the Americas or “social and cultural anthropology”. But recently, scholars have examined the central roles lower and middle class, ethnic, and Afro-American groups have played in the social, economic and cultural history. As with the recognition of the important roles played by women and gender research, these developments have led to the questioning of the traditional separation of these disciplines to the point that concepts and methods developed in intensive co-operation with relevant other disciplines is considered essential for modern scholarly work. In recognition of such changes in scholarship and the disciplines, the historical sciences of Latin America at the LAI are working with the Anthropology of the Americas on two large historical periods: the constitution of Latin American societies of the Conquista up to the end of the 18th Century and the phase of the dynamism of paths into modernity, which began in the 18th century and continues to the present.
Sociology, political science and economic science have changed due to strong contemporary interest in globalization as well as the investigation of modernization in “peripheral” societies as well as those “somewhat more developed”. Where before, modernization and the tradition/modernity dichotomy understood in North Atlantic terms served as the model for the understanding of other societies, research indicating the incompleteness of such models in Latin America society have highlighted the limitations of the traditional disciplines.
Thus, the social sciences at the LAI have sought new terms to account for the complex economic, political, social and cultural dynamics involved in the inclusion of Latin American societies into global structures -- terms that extend considerably beyond the classic notions of "dependence".
Current research is concerned with complex international migration processes, the emergence of versatile Latin American culture productions outside of Latin America, and how local appropriation of human rights -- particularly from an economic point of view -- offer an experimental field for the study of global formulas. Furthermore, market relations, which for many decades were considered “periphery”, now appear as the starting point of industrial capitalism and at the root of economic and social “Brasiliarization”. Finally, the roles of poverty and inequality are seen to be undermining the development of organized crime (in particular, the drug economy), violence, social coherence, and democracy authority and representation in Latin America.
These phenomena are of central relevance to the field of sociology, which has long examined Latin American modernity in its various and fragmented forms, including its empirical, and especially comparative, as well as theoretical basis. Especially in the context of trans-nationalization and delimitations, the study of such phenomena has proven relevant for the discipline's development.
Political science, devoted to the examination of Latin American political and social realities in their complex international and regional interdependences, has been similarly transformed. Interdisciplinarity has here involved questioning of the implementation, consolidation, and blocking of democratization processes and failure of institutions and procedures. Research now involves the examination of modern social formations in terms of the conditions and consequences of these processes and profound economic, social, and cultural fragmentation.
The contribution of economics lies in the analysis of a complex, fragmented modernity, including questions of poverty extension and reduction associated with different modes of production. For example, research involves studies of the dynamic interaction of local, family economies with larger capital markets and monetary policies and associated economic-technical change. These phenomena are understood to involve monetary-economic exclusion processes and family-economy self exploitation. Conceptual developments include the supercession of the older views that the dichotomies of traditional and modern societies or of formal and informal economies should lie at the base of knowledge construction, and their replacement by concepts based on fanciful discoveries of history or “multiple- balances” in economic terms: where elements are examined for their own specific and highly diverse dynamics.
Thus, research on Latin American economies here involves the integration in multiple economical global relations, from trans-national networks of migratory movements to monetary crises and international financial institutions.