Interview with SASE President Santos Ruesga

Santos Ruesga is Professor of Applied Economics at the Autonomous University of Madrid and the President of SASE in the 2022-2023 academic year. His specialization is the study of labor relations, the informal economy, and Latin American economies from macroeconomic and empirical perspectives. He has been a member of the SASE since 2006; served on SASE’s Executive Council between 2012 and 2018; founded and coordinated its bi-annual Ibero-American regional meetings (beginning in 2013); served as local organizer of the 22nd SASE Annual Meeting (Madrid, 2011); and has been co-organizer of Network M (Spanish Language) since 2010.

Interview conducted by Melike Arslan


As an economist by training, what is your approach to socio-economic research and the interdisciplinary study of economies? What initiatives do you think should be taken to promote interdisciplinary research in this field?

My work has gradually moved away from what would conventionally be called economics. I have expanded my vision from the hegemonic economic and social science paradigms to other scientific paradigms. The Austrian thinker Fritjof Capra writes of how we are beginning to move away from our mechanistic paradigm, in which knowledge belongs to a specific scientific method, and toward a systemic, ecological paradigm – this means broadly investigating social reality in its totality, without any of the fragmentations of the current scientific world. This way, we can go beyond capitalistic individualism and anthropocentrism to incorporate a perspective of interdependence, complexity, and interrelation into our scientific investigations, promoting cooperation among civilizations and the option of degrowth.

This is not an entirely new perspective. From the foundation of the dominant economic (and social) paradigm, Descartes and Spinoza debated two different conceptions of how society functions. Their thought gives rise to alternative scientific paradigms and, by extension, to differentiated political, economic, and social governance models. Let us not forget that, as Kuhn pointed out, dominant scientific paradigms are not immune to political ideologies and are also shaped by the competition for power between different dominant social groups. In this way, we can understand how “the hegemony that this vision or theoretical perspective [Neoclassicism] has acquired in recent years is due to that phenomenon of scientific paradigms so well described by Kuhn, associated and defended by communities of, in this case, economists; and supported by social sectors very interested in the explanations of the economic facts associated with said vision.” (Reuben Soto, 2020)[1]

From this perspective, to promote interdisciplinary research among young people in the academic world is to redefine scientific objects of analysis while advancing the use of different scientific methods in different disciplines represented in socio-economics. Methodological convergence would be an exciting step in socio-economic research. 

The same could happen in teaching. Currently, theoretical teaching and methodological training are planned in separate departments. Instead, we should be training students – especially at the postgraduate level – in other disciplines’ methodologies, which would also shape their perspectives on their research objects. Teaching and training in an interdisciplinary mix of methodologies can allow us to advance socio-economics as an interdisciplinary body representing shared research interests. What is more, this interdisciplinarity of methods would allow us to apprehend our objects of analysis from a less anthropocentric perspective insofar as it would represent a holistic approach that includes the social world’s relationship with the natural environment that supports all human activity.

From my experiences working with Latin American universities and with North American colleagues who study the global South, as well as at SASE, I believe it would be interesting to promote connections between researchers who work in different academic disciplines (i.e., economics, sociology, law, etc.) but share an interest in studying the socio-economic relationships in the Global South in an inductive and multidisciplinary way. I have long rebelled against the deductive methodological principles used in academia, which are far removed from social reality. These principles divide social analysis into watertight compartments and simplify them in abstract models by deducing from existing social science paradigms. This is why it is important to open a space for reflection and debate and to incorporate a broad range of Latin American academics who share a similar view on the social sciences and economics, as we did with SASE’s regional meetings – the Ibero-American Meetings on Socio-Economics.

Your research has mainly focused on Latin American economies. What makes the study of socio-economics distinctive in Latin America? How do the insights gained in studying Latin American economies contribute to the broader socio-economics scholarship?

I cannot say there is a distinctly Latin American point of view from an epistemological and scientific perspective. We could, however, talk about a school of socio-economic thought that has had clear relevance to the study of Latin America – namely, structuralism or ECLAC (named as such for its links to the Economic Commission for Latin America at the United Nations).

This school of thought that emerged in the 1960s has been important in criticizing neoclassical economic thought and developing an alternative approach by borrowing theoretical and epistemological elements from the Keynesian institutionalist school and from Marxism. Its influence has gone beyond economics, spreading to other analytical fields like sociology. There is now a new neo-structuralist approach emerging that is linked to some of the post-Keynesian discourse in economics, new neo-institutionalism, and others. 

The connection between Latin American structuralist currents and the formulation of new alternative paradigms – particularly the socio-ecological paradigm – is yielding tangible results in the field of theoretical reflection all over the world. SASE colleagues are advancing tenaciously in this line, as are those in Latin America. In this perspective, Latin American structuralist thought can provide a fruitful contribution to help construct a new alternative paradigm to the conventional one of recent centuries. In the same way, this current of thought, which is already quite present in the Latin American academic world, is proving fertile in the development of empirical analyses within the field of socio-economics and its connected disciplines (e.g., economics). What is more, the shift is also taking place in certain development policies in Latin America.

It is essential, however, to consider the complexity of Latin American reality, which does not necessarily converge, for example, with the perspectives of management and institutional behavior deduced from socio-economic studies focused on other areas. The socio-economic reality of Latin America is much more complex: it requires multidisciplinary analyses capable of comprehending a region marked by informality, institutional deficit, corruption, violence, extreme inequality, market dominance, and volatile political systems that have been co-opted by the ruling classes.

At the SASE blog, we have tried to cover and analyze the recent changes in work life under platformization and the COVID-19 pandemic. As someone studying labor markets and relations, what are your thoughts on these recent developments?

Honestly, the incidence of the COVID-19 pandemic on new phenomena in the governance of labor relations in the world has not been as significant as has been claimed. The pandemic may have promoted some of these new forms of employment relationships, but, in general, they were already underway before the advent of this disastrous occurrence for human health and the well-being of humanity. Thus, for example, although there was a specific increase in so-called “teleworking” – adapting employment relationships to the conditions of the confinement decreed in the first months of the pandemic’s spread – later, in the recovery phase, this acceleration began reversing, reducing the number of workers who work from home. The same could have happened with work under platform structures.  

Although it seems true that there was a quantitative rise during the pandemic, this shift was being developed intensely for years beforehand, wh substantial repercussions on the quality of life of workers in related sectors. In any case, this acceleration of the phenomenon is here to stay in most of the sectorial spaces where it occurred during the pandemic.

But I insist that these changes in the world of labor relations were already taking place before the pandemic and are part of making labor relations more flexible/deregulated. The neoclassical approach to economic relations gained ground in national policies and international organizations in the 1980s; these new forms of organization for the appropriation of labor in the capitalist system are now responding to its need, at a given historical moment, to recompose the rate of profit on capital based on reducing labor cost (unitary) with the enormous contribution of new digital technologies – ICTs, robotization, AI, etc. – which are without a doubt central actors in this leap toward flexibility that we are seeing in the world of work.

It is worth considering, as my friend Luis Jimenez Herrero points out in his latest book, that “perhaps the message that nature sends us through COVID-19 will allow us to better understand the phenomenon of Global Change, the unfeasible destiny of the human system within the biosphere.” That said, we have already received messages of this nature on other occasions (Spanish influenza, for example); and in the long term, there have been no significant changes to our production and consumption models, which clearly alter the planet’s environmental balance.

The same could be true about the pandemic crisis’ incidence on labor relations. In addition to accelerating some processes already underway before the pandemic, some  little-known or little-analyzed phenomena could have emerged, such as the Great Resignation (the growth of work absenteeism and job abandonment), which could be related to workers’ views on working conditions and well-being at work. But we have still had very little time to gain perspective and to gauge the effects caused or heightened by the pandemic.

Before becoming the President of SASE, you had been a long-time member and organizer of meetings for the association. Could you tell us a bit more about those previous engagements? What motivated you to participate in and contribute to SASE?

I have been working in the field of socio-economics for many years. I began participating in SASE in 2005, at the annual meeting in Trier, Germany. Later, I organized the 2011 meeting in Madrid at my university, the Autonomous University of Madrid, which came with a leap in participation. The Madrid conference also occasioned a notable increase in Latin American academics in attendance at annual SASE meetings, mainly through the Spanish language network (Network M). Following that experience, I got together with a group of Latin American colleagues and we launched SASE’s regional conference initiative – the Ibero-American Socio-Economics Meetings (RISE), which will soon be in its sixth edition. RISE meetings have already taken place in Mexico (Mexico City), Brazil (Porto Alegre), Colombia (Cartagena), Costa Rica (Heredia), and Peru (online). Through them, we have tried to bring socio-economics and its applications in empirical research to Latin America’s academics and researchers . In so doing, we have helped to advance the socio-economic approach and to provide a feasible alternative paradigm to the conventional theoretical discourse.

SASE has been organizing (with your vital contribution) Ibero-American regional meetings bi-annually. How do these meetings complement the annual meeting of SASE? What are your thoughts on the contributions of these regional meetings to the development of socio-economic research in the region?

 The regional meetings bring the conceptual and methodological dimensions of socio-economics to bear on content relevant to Latin America. On the one hand, participants at the Ibero-American meetings take part in the same ontological, epistemological, and theoretical reflections as those found at the general SASE annual meeting. But on the other hand, these conferences have a thematic focus on content that highlights the Latin American context in particular, including cultural problems related to sustainable development, indigenism, the singularity of social life in insular spaces or under special environmental protection, corruption, drug trafficking, the dynamics of political and electoral systems, and many other socio-economic problems that, without being exclusive to the region, do manifest a particular intensity there. The papers presented on these topics at Ibero-American meetings represent a remarkable contribution to SASE as a society of academic researchers. I should also add that having three official languages at these meetings (Spanish, Portuguese, and English) also expands our reach in the Latin American academic world.

This year, the annual SASE conference will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and great participation from Latin American scholars is expected. What are some of the prominent issues in socio-economic research on Latin America today that you would like to see discussed at this meeting?

 Some have already been discussed at length at earlier SASE meetings, such as the issue of socio-economic inequality, with its consequences of social exclusion and marginalization, as well as poverty, the true scourge of Latin American societies. But I also hope to see analyses of problems unique to our discipline, such as feminist interpretations of sustainable development in relation to gender inequality.

In terms of specific topics, among others, I look forward to interpretations of new dynamics in globalization, work on transformations in global governance that emphasizes technological innovation and its determinants, and presentations that look at changes in political institutions and their characteristics, on both national and supranational levels.

The theme you have picked for the annual conferences is “Socio-Economics in a World in Transition: Breaking Alternative Lines and Paradigms for a New World Order.” How do you describe the shape of this new world order, and what kind of new paradigms do we need in the scholarship to understand it?

In my view, this new international order in politics, economics, and so on, must be based on what has been described in recent decades as a socio-ecological paradigm, incorporating development as part of its basic foundations, alongside social equity and environmental sustainability. The degrowth discourse, which has been developing for decades – albeit mainly in economics – contributes many elements of reflection to the future of this new order. As the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) points out, it is necessary to “prioritize human well-being and the environment over economic growth.”

As we say in the Rio call for papers, the disruptive symptoms of the dominant paradigm are many, and they are increasing in intensity. Under these premises, the theme proposed for this year could not be timelier and more relevant.  

The world is trasitionning, and we must break down the old lines of thinking and create alternative paradigms to navigate the changing landscape. The SASE community has a crucial role to play in addressing the challenges and opportunities of this transitional period, in addition to those that have arisen in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The theme reflects the need to go beyond traditional boundaries and assumptions to develop innovative ways of understanding and addressing these complex challenges. 

As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment funds, pointed out a few months ago, “The world is in transition and transitions are terrifying.” At the center of this transition is the urgent need to address the pressing issues of our time. Climate change, rising inequality, and political polarization are just a few of the critical challenges that require urgent attention. As socio-economists, we must engage with these problems, find new interpretations of our current civilization, and offer solutions to help build a fairer and more sustainable world.

Our blog, Future Directions in Socio-Economics, is run by and targets early-career scholars in socio-economics. What advice would you give young researchers starting their careers in socio-economics, and what skills do you think are essential for success in this interdisciplinary field?

Keeping an open-mind to new philosophical developments and their applications in science (particularly the social sciences) is essential. Stay alert to recent research and different research methodologies of a multidisciplinary nature. Supplement your academic training, which is usually very biased toward a specific discipline, with content from different disciplines to enrich both your theoretical and your empirical work. I have found that in my field (economics), as the scientific literature grows, it is increasingly necessary to turn to other disciplines to interpret the results of different quantitative and qualitative models in a broader sense.

Keeping an open-mind to new philosophical developments and their applications in science (particularly the social sciences) is essential. Stay alert to recent research and different research methodologies of a multidisciplinary nature. Supplement your academic training, which is usually very biased toward a specific discipline, with content from different disciplines to enrich both your theoretical and your empirical work. I have found that in my field (economics), as the scientific literature grows, it is increasingly necessary to turn to other disciplines to interpret the results of different quantitative and qualitative models in a broader sense.  

We are especially curious to hear your advice to young researchers interested in studying the informal economy, which has been an elusive topic.

Following my answer to the above question, I suggest two fundamental features for research programs on informality. First, there should be a holistic approach that considers how informal activities are not watertight compartments within societies and economies – they are not neatly contained within the human sphere, but affect natural environments as well.

Second, we must underpin the multidisciplinary nature of our research on informality, both conceptually and methodologically. Informality is not a strictly economic phenomenon, explainable only in terms of macro- or micro-economic variables –  its understanding requires that we embrace other dimensions on the plane of social relations, which allow us to grasp the dynamics of economic variables.


[1] Reuben Soto, S. (2020). The Economic Paradigms and Economic Neoliberalism. Oikos Polis v.5 n.2. ISSN 2415-2250 (