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About CERLAC

Mural in Caracas, Venezuela | Photo courtesy of Kamla Ross

CERLAC is Canada's oldest and largest LAC research centre. Our current mandate is hemispheric, grounded in deep engagement with the LAC region and those identified with it, but emphasizing in transnational processes, ties to local LAC communities, and thematic collaboration with scholars working outside LAC alongside traditional area studies.

As an organized research unit, CERLAC offers LAC scholars in departments and units across York an important cross-cutting axis of intellectual engagement. Our mandate encompasses 1) pursuing and supporting timely, excellent, and socially engaged research on the LAC region; 2) providing an advanced interdisciplinary education on the LAC region for York University students; 3) sharing knowledge grounded in rigorous scholarship on the region with Canadian and international academic, governmental, and non-governmental organizations as well as community partners; 4) creating pathways between the university and other constituencies.

CERLAC fosters research intensification at York University by providing support services for fellows' projects and collaborations, training new generations of regional scholars, mobilizing knowledge to media, policy-makers, and broader communities, and programming events and other opportunities for scholarly exchange.

Over nearly four decades, CERLAC Fellows have published critically lauded works in a broad range of disciplines, from economics to fine arts. Our major conferences and lecture series have informed the Canadian public about the critical issues facing Latin America and the Caribbean. With our institution-building projects in the region, we have also forged a remarkable breadth of linkages with universities, research centres, and non-governmental organizations that provide opportunities for York faculty and student research and bolster York's reputation for research excellence throughout the hemisphere.

Recently, CERLAC has also increased its focus on Latin American and Caribbean communities closer to home.

Thematic clusters

As a community of communities, CERLAC welcomes research and researchers representing all the thematic, geographic, and disciplinary diversity of contemporary LAC scholarship. During its 2015-2020 charter, CERLAC especially seeks to advance collaboration in the following five areas:

One of CERLAC’s long-standing areas of strength is the study of extractive industries, their social and environmental impacts, and the increasingly important role rural and indigenous communities are playing in environmental stewardship. The LAC mining sector is a key site of investment for Canadian capital and a source of controversy. Increasingly Canadian foreign aid priorities are aligned with this sector, while NGOs and community groups demand reliable information about its activities and impacts. 

An emerging area of focus at CERLAC concerns health and healing in the LAC region. CERLAC researchers explore themes ranging from national health policies and reproductive healthcare services to the trauma of political violence and human rights violations. Throughout the term of the current charter, CERLAC will work to promote synergies and collaborative efforts among York’s diverse group of scholars, joining in the university’s broader effort to make York a global centre for interdisciplinary perspectives on health.

The richness and global influence of LAC cultural practices in dance, music, theatre, literature, media, and art, as well as their use as tools of resistance and contestation, make Media and Performance a central topic for CERLAC. Critical LAC scholarship has long valued the knowledge and practices of subaltern social groups as a source of insight into and contestation of colonialism and capitalism. Strong cultural repertoires of music, dance, theatre, and visual art make performance a rich site for elaborating and engaging with this knowledge.

CERLAC was established on waves of political exile from South American military dictatorships in the 1970s and Central American civil wars in the 1980s. Migration has been a prominent theme for Centre researchers ever since then. In much of the LAC region, social crises that followed the 2008 global financial crisis dramatically compounded the effects of earlier neoliberal policies, reshaping societies and generating new flows of migration, new strategies of policing, new rights claims, and new immigration policy controversies in recipient nations.

Politics in the LAC region have entered a new phase of instability marked by resurgent authoritarianism, polarization, and crisis. The “Pink Tide’s” left critique of neoliberalism has increasingly been displaced by expressions of right-wing populism, in regionally and nationally specific ways that can nevertheless be instructive in understanding this emerging global phenomenon. In their consequences for public policy, these developments tie into other areas of CERLACs work as well, including extractive industries, health and healing, migration, and women, and LGBTQ+ communities’ rights.

Contextualizing labour precarity and resistance to it in the region where neoliberalism was pioneered provides important insight into its workings around the globe. Precarity and labour politics has been a longstanding focus of the research of CERLAC. In particular, the intersection of migration and labour precarities is a key concern for CERLAC researchers. 

Much recent work across many disciplines in the social sciences, sciences, and humanities has turned on questions of sexual identities, experiences, behaviors, and communities in Latin America, the Caribbean, and their diasporas. At York University an informal network of scholars has taken up topics within Sexuality Studies ranging from health and reproduction to human rights. CERLAC shares in York’s broader strength in gender and sexuality studies, with a particular concentration in the Caribbean.