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The Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (COES) is a research centre that brings together a group of high profile academics from multiple disciplines to study social conflict and cohesion (convivencia) in Chile. The centre’s objective is to contribute to the improvement of social cohesion through research that informs public policy and social dialogue, as well as raising general public awareness about these issues.

COES focuses on four research lines that we consider to be of utmost relevance to the problems of social conflict and cohesion: the socioeconomic dimensions of conflict, group and individual interactions, political and social conflict and geographies of conflict. Each research line in turn focuses on four further research topics, which break down its subject matter into manageable pieces, as the diagram below illustrates.

The socioeconomic dimensions of conflict

This line of research studies the relationship between social conflict and cohesion with socioeconomic conditions, institutions and public policy. While primarily analyzing the Chilean reality, international contexts are also studied. This dimension is comprised of four areas that delve into specific topics and their interactions: social inequalities, economic development, education and social mobility.

In regards to multidisciplinary work with the rest of the Centre’s researchers, this line of investigation will study, among other topics, the real and perceived inequalities and how distinct forms of inequality impact the values and attitudes that motivate social conflict and cohesion. Geographical and educational segregation, and their impact on the existing socioeconomic structure, will also be analyzed.

This area has consolidated its research on the quantitative study of social inequalities. There are three thematic focuses: education, work and the spatial dimension of the inequalities. The Centre’s researchers´ perspective is that education and work have historically played, and continue to play, a central role in the dynamics of social inequalities, social conflicts and social cohesion in Chile and around the world. From a strategic point of view, the relevance of these topics in individuals´ lives, on economic, political and social development, and in the public policy discussions in Chile and other countries, suggest that it is relevant to position this Centre as an international scientific reference for these topics. Additionally, the territorial dimension of inequalities, its expression and reproduction in the cities, as with the relationship between very heterogeneous regions, represent transversal thematic focuses in all of COES’s lines of research.

Group and Individual Interactions

This line of research contributes to the analysis and understanding of social conflicts and cohesion in Chile, by integrating the interpersonal and intergroup dimensions into the macro-social context. It is divided into four sub-dimensions: a) interpersonal relationships and conflict, with an emphasis on the family unit and neighborhood; b) the interactions between social groups, including the issues of prejudice and discrimination; c) class-based hierarchical group interactions and sociopolitical cleavages, and d) cohesive citizenry and pro-social behavior, emphasizing the interactions between individuals and the public sphere by way of citizen participation.

These areas of investigation lend special attention to the subjective aspects, such as attitudes and perceptions towards others and the social system, as well as their consequences on behavior, regarding the degree to which they promote or mitigate situations of social conflict and/or cohesion.

Thus, the main objective of this line of research is: to assess and identify the causes, the underlying processes and the consequences associated with the emergence of conflicts and problems of social harmony or cohesion, at the interpersonal and intergroup levels.

Social and Political Conflict

This line of research examines the important signs of social and political conflict, which have manifested themselves in Chile during recent years, particularly since 2011, when the incidence of social mobilizations increased significantly. An increase in the frequency of aggressive incidents (violence during the demonstrations and outright anarchist attacks), has contributed to a sensation of instability and insecurity that Chile has not experienced since its transition to democracy. All of this has occurred in the context of a growing electoral and political disaffection, combined with a loss of trust in all types of public institutions. A change in the electoral policies from a mandatory vote to a voluntary vote, along with a new system that automatically registers eligible voters, has only served to highlight the extent of the problem.

Notably, the social mobilizations, since 2011, have also articulated demands to change the constitution, which illustrates the degree to which Chilean institutions have lost legitimacy. Additionally, a wave of financial scandals associated with banks and the retail sector have placed in evidence the abuses and deficiencies of market regulation, which contributes to an overall sense of a lack of trust, expressed through preferences for state institutions in opinion polls. Finally, the controversy about the Constitution and the presidential promise of substitution with a new fundamental charter, reveals the corollary of fights and conflicts that is not always easy to unify with a common thread. These types of conflicts justify the incorporation of a historic approximation, with the goal of detecting the continuities and changes, and in this way break with the spontaneous surprise in response to phenomena that are not necessarily without precedent.

This line of research proposes to examine questions that arise from these circumstances, from four dimensions: disaffection and the legitimacy of democracy; the conflict with judicial and constitutional norms; conflicts and social movements; and the socio-cultural and political history of conflict in Chile.

Geographies of conflict: the spatial dimension of social conflict and cohesion

The main objective of this line of research is to examine the debates on social justice and urban and regional spaces. From a theoretical point of view, this line of research proposes to broaden the traditional understanding of space based fundamentally on territoriality, to one that also considers reflections on positions in the social structure, belonging, as well as investigation on other non-territorial forms of community and group formation.
Specifically, the theoretic, empirical and public policy aspects will be examined in four main areas: the impact of inequality and multidimensional segregation on social justice in urban territories; territorial inequalities and social conflicts; social capital, conflict and support networks; the tensions between local and public authorities, the market and civil society. In this sense, important elements of this line of research include: urban and socio-environmental conflict, urban segregation, gentrification, territorial belonging, urban heritage, sociability and intercultural life in neighborhoods, housing policies, protests and demonstrations, regional/territorial identities, immigration and decentralization policies.