Spotlight Scholars

The Spotlight Scholar webpage highlights outstanding early-career scholars whose work showcases or advances interpretive approaches to the study of politics. To nominate an early-career scholar for the Spotlight Scholar webpage, please use the following form. Self-nominations are also welcome.


Kevin Funk
June 2020

Kevin Funk is an interdisciplinary political economist and Latin Americanist whose research sheds light on how the region’s cultural geographies and built spaces are both shaped by, and give shape to, various kinds of global flows. In so doing, his writings contribute to important debates relating to theories of global capitalism, socio-spatial transformation, and Latin American political economy.

Funk’s forthcoming book, which is entitled Rooted Globalism: Arab-Latin American Elite Consciousness and the Politics of Alternative Imaginaries and is under contract with Indiana University Press, interrogates the oft-repeated claim that global capitalists have developed a shared, cosmopolitan class consciousness. This study presents an innovative, interpretivist analysis of the dozens of ethnographic interviews that the author conducted with leaders from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile’s prominent Arab-descendant economic elite and illuminates how they navigate between their Arab ancestry, Latin American host cultures, and roles as protagonists of globalization.

His principal finding is that while capitalist globalization is indeed strengthening border-crossing connections between economic elites, it is simultaneously reinforcing certain localized cultural practices, identities, and imaginaries, rather than obliterating them. As he carefully documents, global capitalism in fact relies on particularistic identities, as it is precisely those with the requisite cultural capital—in this case, Arab- Latin Americans—who are best situated to identify opportunities for, facilitate, participate in, and profit from economic exchange between these two far-flung yet increasingly connected regions.

This text makes significant contributions to vibrant, multidisciplinary debates on global class formation, global imaginaries, and transnationalism, as well as to literatures on Arab-Latin Americans and other diaspora communities, and to the advancement of interpretivist methods. Funk puts into dialogue the diverse works of political scientists ranging from Robert Cox to Samuel Huntington, along with sociologists such as Saskia Sassen and Manuel Castells, and anthropologists like Aihwa Ong and Nina Glick Schiller, all of whom argue that simultaneous embeddedness in multiple spaces, and the concomitant waning of state sovereignty, are constituent features of our global age.

Funk’s is the first in-depth analysis of global identity formation within a particular community of economic elites. Contrary to received wisdom, he reveals the persistence as opposed to the death of national imaginaries even among assumed “globalists.” In turn, he develops the novel concept of “rooted globalism” to capture how global identities are slowly rising, but without erasing existing attachments. Instead, what are being generated are mixed, palimpsest-like imaginaries and “classed” intersectional identities that are simultaneously local, national, transnational, and global.

This research has also served as the basis for articles that have been published in the Journal of Cultural Economy, New Political Science, and The Latin Americanist, as well as book chapters in The Global Citizenship Nexus: Critical Studies and Latin American Foreign Policies towards the Middle East: Actors, Contexts, and Trends 

His current research and subsequent book project—tentatively entitled, Making Neoliberal Places: A Social, Spatial, and Temporal Analysis of Urban Change in Rio de Janeiro—continues to analyze how mental and physical spaces in and beyond Latin America are being transformed by globalizing processes. With funding from the American Political Science Association and other sources, Funk spent six months in Rio conducting interviews for this study, along with carrying out a “walking ethnography” and compiling photographic evidence.

As Funk argues, Rio is a particularly apt site from which to theorize socio-spatial transformation, given that its world-famous built environment is very much in flux due to recent megaprojects and post-Olympics struggles over who has the right to inhabit this extremely unequal and increasingly privatized city. Particularly suggestive of Rio’s “regeneration” is the upmarket, public-private Porto Maravilha (Marvelous Port) development along its long-neglected harbor. Its newly opened spaces include futuristic, “starchitect”-designed museums and South America’s biggest aquarium. Yet Rio’s local experience is also emblematic of a broader trend, as urban waterfronts the world over are being “revitalized” by culture-led development schemes and the construction of “iconic” spaces.

Drawing from the case of Rio, this study analyzes the meanings embedded in these projects, reveals how they engender a class-based and racialized form of citizenship, and delineates their promotion of market values over democratic ones. Putting Nancy Fraser’s notion of “progressive neoliberalism” into dialogue with the voluminous literature on “neoliberal urbanism,” Funk develops the concept of “progressive neoliberal place-making” to explain how these privatizing projects seek legitimacy by adopting and appropriating social-justice discourses.

Museu do Amanhã, Rio de Janeiro. Photograph by Kevin Funk, 2018

This dynamic is especially evident vis-à-vis the new and above-pictured Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow), which is the most spectacular addition to central Rio’s waterfront. As Funk argues in a soon-to-be-submitted article manuscript, while this “iconic” site invokes a utopian futurism based on addressing climate change and other environmental challenges, the Museum is in fact unable to disentangle itself from the corporate and environmentally unsustainable logic of the larger Porto Maravilha project. Further, embedded in the Museum’s futuristic ontology is a disregarding of the “revitalized” port area’s past role in the slave trade and the difficult social conditions that affect its present residents, who are among Rio’s poorest.

In addition to these topics, Funk is also interested in the broader Latin American experience with neoliberalism (Journal of Politics in Latin America), and is currently tracing the diffusion of Chilean-style neoliberal policies—such as the country’s pathbreaking system of privatized pensions—to Brazil and other countries both within and beyond the region.

Finally, Funk conducts research on the sociology of academic knowledge production, with a focus on the status of Marxism (International Studies Perspectives; Teaching Marx & Critical Theory in the 21st Century; PS: Political Science & Politics [forthcoming]) and interpretivism (PS: Political Science & Politics) within political science and the social sciences more broadly.

He is a regular invited speaker on Latin American politics at the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute. He has also received the Hayward R. Alker Award from the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Interpretive Methodologies and Methods Group, the Stephen Eric Bronner Dissertation Award from APSA’s Caucus for a New Political Science, and the Edward H. Moseley Award from the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies, and previously served on the executive committee of the International Studies Association’s Global South Caucus.

Kevin Funk can be reached at kevin.funk@gmail.com and followed at @KevinBFunk. His writings can be accessed via https://independent.academia.edu/KevinBFunk.

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