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The Production and Reproduction of Social Inequalities:

Global Contexts and Concepts of Labor Exploitation

The research unit “The Production and Reproduction of Social Inequalities” addresses the overarching question of why attempts aimed at increasing equality often have contributed to generating more durable inequalities. As a way of addressing this general question, the research unit focuses on concepts and actors and their roles in producing and reproducing social inequalities in the context of colonial and postcolonial labor systems and regimes of mobility in the Global South. In this study, inequalities are understood as relational and historically embedded and as comprising several dimensions, including social, economic, and epistemic inequality. More specifically, the research unit focuses on selected concepts that are locally grounded and describe forms of social inequalities linked to different types of labor exploitation, namely "native labor", "new slavery", "human trafficking", and "cheap/abundant labor". The members of the research unit investigate - both from a historical and contemporary perspective - how these concepts circulated on a global scale, and were negotiated, translated, and adapted by institutional and individual actors with the aim of challenging social inequalities, while eventually contributing to the production of those same, or new, inequalities. The research unit intends to reconcile debates on conceptual history, labor history, and inequality and combines perspectives from both the Global South and North. Ultimately, it aims to interpret global labor regimes and to draw lessons from experiences for societies in both the Global South and North.

Members of the Research Unit

  • Tu Huynh, Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne (Principal Investigator)
  • Fabiana Kutsche, University of Cologne (Doctoral Researcher)
  • Ulrike Lindner, University of Cologne (Principal Investigator)
  • Sophia Mayer, University of Cologne (Student Assistant)
  • Jonathan Ngeh, University of Cologne (Senior Researcher)
  • Michaela Pelican, University of Cologne (Principal Investigator, Speaker of Research Unit)
  • Paula Rosenfeld, University of Cologne (Student Assistant)
  • Rediet Tadele, University of Addis Abeba (Master Student)
  • Ulrike Wesch, University of Cologne (Coordinator of Research Unit)
  • Anna Wölki, University of Cologne (Student Assistant)
  • Yang Fan, Jinan University Guangzhou (Student Assistant)
  • Meron Zeleke, University of Addis Abeba (Principal Investigator)

The Projects of the Research Unit

The research unit entails four projects, headed by the following Principal Investigators (PIs):

This Research Unit is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.