Background

The phenomenon known as globalization poses a number of paradoxes and challenges for multidisciplinary field researchers working in the humanities and the social and environmental sciences. A particularly important factor for countries such as Mexico is the growing polarization between (and within) nations—especially on a North-South axis—and the concomitant and sweeping increase in poverty and marginalization, among other things. This is happening in a context where the capitalist system seems to have finally unified the world. The economy has internationalized to unprecedented levels and technological innovations—especially in the fields of information technology, microelectronics, telecommunications biotechnology, new materials, and nanotechnology—greatly influence the economic, social, and cultural spheres. The concepts of the nation-state, nationalism, and the defense of national interest have paradoxically returned to the fore and are given a diversity of meanings that incorporate cultural aspects, ethnic and religious identities, and even a nation’s struggle against external debt or social resistance to the painful structural adjustment policies imposed on so-called third world countries by the large international financial bodies.

This state of affairs has been fully acknowledged by the academic community and even some international organizations such as the World Bank (i.e., the post-Washington Consensus), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). They have all identified development as the one of the most urgent challenges facing social organizations, governments, public entities, international institutions, and specialists in a variety of fields. It is important to note that development is a multidimensional process that involves the spheres of economics, society, politics, culture and ethnicity, education, science and technology, and the environment.

Here we must remember that Latin America has not only been the experimental site of several development models that include modernization theories, the dependency theories posited by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and current alternative development paradigms; it has also been the source of extensive social thought on the subject.

Given the current, staunch presence of orthodox liberalism in its neoliberal facet and the concomitant attempt to impose, through a variety of methods, a “single line of thought” throughout the region, it is necessary for Latin American thought to renew itself on a variety of levels and undertake a critical recovery of development theories and practices. In addition to new conceptual approaches, this should take into account developing alternatives posed by social movements as well as the relatively successful experiences of other regions (e.g., Southeast Asia). For this purpose, we must focus on viable evolving alternatives that can be strengthened and expanded on a national level or even beyond the borders of the nation-state.

The most efficacious way in which to carry out this transcendental task is to approach it from an interdisciplinary perspective and incorporate the spatio-temporal dimensions of social phenomena and their relationship with the environment. This will enable a dialectical understanding of social realities and their double expression: the veiling/unveiling that originates, envelops, and results from social struggles in favor of the preservation or transformation of a current social order, where the issue of development occupies a fundamental place (Bordieu; Löwy). Other fundamental elements of this epistemological perspective are: an acknowledgement and non-eclectic critical retrieval (even if partial) of previous contributions to the field; the development of creative and innovative capabilities, and a reflection on the process of the “objectivation” of knowledge while keeping away from any form of dogmatism.