The origins of the Stockholm Institute of Latin American Studies (LAIS) go back to the foundation of the Ibero American Library and Institute at the Stockholm School of Economics in 1951. On May 29th, 1969 the institute was given an independent status and the wider roles as a coordinating and information center for Latin American studies in Sweden. At this juncture its name was changed to the present one, and closer cooperation with Stockholm University was initiated. In 1977 the LAIS became incorporated into the university. The first chairman of the restructured institute was economist Gunnar Myrdal and its first director, the historian, Magnus Mörner.

A Board and a Director preside over the work of the Institute, both appointed by the president of Stockholm University. Members of the board are distinguished individuals from the academic community, governmental authorities, and other organizations interested in Latin America and the Caribbean. The chairman of the board is Professor Mats Lundahl, Stockholm School of Economics.

The main tasks assigned to the Institute are to perform and stimulate research as well as to organize courses and disseminate information on the political, social and economic conditions in Latin American and Caribbean countries. Accordingly, the Institute provides masters and research degree supervision in selected areas and issues, as well as assistance in seeking external funding and preparation of fieldwork. It also runs a teaching program at the undergraduate level consisting of a basic course and intermediate course.

A number of researchers and research students from diverse departments of Swedish universities participate in the Institute's research activities as associates. These and other interested persons outside the university are brought together in seminars and conferences.

The Institute is actively involved in international cooperation on Latin American studies, particularly with universities and research institutes in Latin America, Europe, and the United States. It also maintains a library housing more than 40,000 volumes, as well as important scientific periodical and reference materials. The library, which is formally under the authority of the Stockholm University Library, is open to students, researchers, and the public.