Studying Science and Technology in Latin America: Beyond Imported Magic

August 24-25, 2012
Indiana University, Bloomington

About the workshop

In discussions of Latin America, a frequent perception is that science and technology come from elsewhere. This notion is furthered by ideas of modernization and development that originated outside Latin America and encouraged the transfer and diffusion of machinery and knowledge imported from more industrialized nations. Within Latin America science and technology were popularly likened to forms of “imported magic” that were universal, highly effective, sometimes mysterious, and always from somewhere else (Marques 2005). Such views elevate the transfer of technologies and ideas from north to south and do not acknowledge that innovation, invention, and discovery occur in multiple contexts and travel in many directions. Critical frameworks from science and technology studies (STS) challenge these assumptions and encourage the formulation of new ideas about how Latin American peoples, countries, cultures, and environments create and adapt science and technology. These critical perspectives further suggest how we might reframe the role of local knowledges in the production of science and technology and break down well-used but misleading dichotomies such as center/periphery and developed/underdeveloped.

This workshop aims to provide a nuanced analysis of science and technology in a “developing” part of the world and address an underrepresented area of the STS literature. However, the workshop aims to do more than fill a geographic gap. It uses Latin American experiences to challenge assumptions about science, technology, and their study. For example, proposed workshop papers question the past primacy STS scholars have given to acts of technological invention and instead highlight local adaptation and reinvention, as well as local and hybrid forms of knowledge production. Moreover, the workshop views science and technology as more than a component of diffusion or transfer models (both of which suggest that science and technology travel unaltered from the north to the south). Building on one of the central findings of STS scholarship, the proposed workshop emphasizes that dominant forms of science and technology are neither universal nor neutral but instead result from complex negotiations among nations, organizations, and communities. However, the workshop also aims to extend this argument and use science and technology to examine the complex and often fraught relationship of Latin America and “the West.” Such analyses reveal how values and assumptions are embedded in scientific and technological knowledge production and illuminate the ways that ideas and artifacts are continually being produced, adapted, and reinvented as they travel among communities, institutions, and nations. In addition, the workshop will explore such questions as

  • How might the study of science and technology in the context of Latin America open new spaces to critique, discuss, understand, and improve science and engineering practices?
  • How might Latin American experiences offer a more nuanced and reflexive understanding of modernity?
  • How do legacies of colonialism and economic dependency shape practices of technology selection, innovation, and adaptation?
  • How have historical, political, geographical, and economic contexts shaped Latin American science and technology policies, and what happens when such policies are imported from elsewhere?
  • What lessons can we learn from Latin America about the development of science and technology policies that take limited resources into consideration?
  • How have scholars from U.S., European, and Latin American institutions studied the relationship of science, technology, and society, and what might we learn from these differences?
The workshop is being organized by Professors Eden Medina (School of Informatics and Computing and the Department of History), Shane Greene (Department of Anthropology and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies), and Deborah Cohn (Department of American Studies and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese).