Researcher Profile: Dr Dr Carolina Alves Vestena

Dr Dr Carolina Alves Vestena joined the Centre in April in the capacity of co-leader of the research group Legitimation and Delegitimation in Global Cooperation and will be contributing to the Centre’s research agenda until taking up an interim professorship at the University of Kassel in October. A recent conversation touched upon Dr. Dr. Vestena's intensive training in jurisprudence, the sociology of law, and political science, as well as her main research interests, what she brings to the Centre, and plans for the future.

A native of Brazil, Carolina obtained her first degree in Legal Studies from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre in 2009, followed by an M.A. in Sociology of Law at the Fundação Getulio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro in 2010. Initially intending to become a judge, her focus shifted to the study of the practice of law, how the law is applied, to whom, and with which powers.

I didn’t want to make decisions about the lives of other people. I wanted to understand why law is so important in society and why it has so much influence on the behaviour of individuals and institutions.

Working directly with communities was integral to an early sociological understanding of the practice of law. Carolina describes a concept she calls 'popular lawyering' in Brazil: lawyers working with marginalised groups and individuals – those living in poverty, those without or with limited access to justice. She began working on projects with law clinics dealing specifically with these groups in areas such as migration law, inheritance, and access to pensions.

During her master’s program, Carolina studied the Sociology of Justice. The interdisciplinary program offered multiple perspectives through instruction in the legal dimensions of administration, international relations, and economics. Having the opportunity to share classes with practitioners of the legal system, she reflects on her seminars from this time as a kind of participatory research.

I was interested in the theoretical dimension of things, analysing the processes and societal dimensions as well as the question of judicialization.

During her PhD in Legal Studies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, Carolina also participated in a year-long fellowship at the University of Kassel, supervised by Sonja Buckel, a political theorist who had written on a materialist theory of law. An acquaintance with Germany through German political theory had already been an integral part of Carolina’s studies during her earlier research.

With her intensive background in law in the practical sense, and an interest in the theoretical analysis of law as a field and as a phenomenon in society, Dr Dr Vestena integrates judicial considerations with those of sociological processes. Her first main research focus was to discern an understanding of how these two areas can become connected and entangled, and what can be learned from these connections. Another important research area, and the focus of her second PhD is social movements. Even if her empirical research was about Portugal, having worked in those Brazilian law clinics created the impetus to ‘understand how collective organisation can produce collective power’. Here the major question posed was ‘How do social movements use legal means to achieve their goals?’

Carolina's recent research project ‘Digital Tools and Interest Organization in the Global South’ took place in the context of INEF (Institute for Development and Peace, University Duisburg-Essen), where she collaboarated with Christian Scheper. The project began with the goal of understanding how digitalization contributes to the dynamics of global value chains in the coffee and textile industries in Brazil. During preliminary research, however, the researchers widened the focus due to the dynamics and empirical realities observed on the ground, specifially with reference to workers and working conditions.

We saw a lot of migrant women, people of colour, and impoverished people in these extremely precarious working conditions; these populations offer insight to the different kinds of discrimination experienced in daily life. We realized that they should be brought into the research project as well.

On June 19th, Carolina’s newest research project was officially granted funding from the Hans-Böckler-Foundation. ‘Rechtskämpfe entlang transnationalen Lieferketten’ (Legal Struggles in Transnational Supply Chains) is a two-year endeavour in which Dr Dr Vestena will partner (among others) with Christian Scheper (INEF) as well as Sonja Buckel (Department of Political Sciences, University of Kassel).

The project is linked to our past research at INEF in the context of digital tools and workers organisation in the Global South. However, now we would like to analyse how the new German due diligence law (das Lieferkettensorgfaltpflichtsgesetz) changes the conditions of possibility for collective actors, as for example NGOs or trade unions, in the national and transnational level, to engage in legal strategies to push for socio-ecological transformation (in a broader picture) and, in a smaller, for better working and environmental conditions in the production and circulation of commodities and/or creation of value along the chains. The project will be based on case studies of legal struggles before the new LkSG and on the analysis of the current implementation of the law, where we will look at legal doctrine debates on the law and the strategies already being played by unions, central legal actors, and politically articulated actors in the field of business and human rights activism.


Andrew Costigan