Eden Medina, Ivan da Costa Marques, Christina Holmes, Marcos Cueto and their contributors to their edited volume Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America seek to go beyond unidirectional diffusionist histories of North-South technology transfer to show, using critical frameworks from STS, how technology is actually created, adapted, and used in Latin America. The chapters in this collection cover the ontological politics of technology, forensic technology, construction engineering, the One Laptop Per Child initiative, atomic and other energies, and biodiversity. Their Latin America, like many, is one caught in the crosshairs of multiple competing, and often conflictual, Euro-American ideological and geopolitical projects: atoms for peace, Soviet expansionism, American expansionism, American techno-fantastical bleeding-heart philanthropy, and Chicago-school-style neoliberalism, among others. But their Latin America is not the helpless victim to these projects, but an active partner adopting, recycling, and repackaging them much the same way that they adopt these project’s technological baggage only with modification, contextualization, Latin Americanization, or creolization, or whatever you want to call it. It is difficult to encapsulate such a diverse anthology in a single short response beyond each chapter’s connection to the aforementioned themes, but there is at least one unifying factor among them: for each of the contributors to this volume, Latin America works as “a space to study alternative epistemologies that challenge Western ‘scientific’ ways of knowing” that calls into question “science and technology policies that travel from North to South but are ill suited to Latin American realities or socially unjust.”
Latin America operates as a kind of third space alongside the colonizing and the colonized/decolonized/postcolonial worlds. The fact that it was conquered and colonized centuries before and achieved independence centuries before the rest of the colonized world (much of it, in fact, achieved independence well before much of the rest of the colonized world was colonized in the first place) makes it difficult lump Latin America together with other postcolonial places. While Europeans were colonizing Asia and Africa, Latin America was undergoing an altogether different colonial experience unrelatable to other colonized nations — it was intracolonizing. Its creole and mestizo elites — usually on its coasts or in its metropolitan centers — were colonizing its more indigenous, more rural population in its own hinterlands and peripheries. The colonial, and thus anti- and de-colonial dynamics of Latin America thus figure as a kind of nested compound colonialism that colors its reception and rearticulation of technoscientific artifacts and relationships with other nations. In Beyond Imported Magic, this compound colonialism is seen in the Brazilian government’s mediation between Northern multinational seed and pharmaceutical companies and its own people’s access to healthcare and to their own biodiversity. It can also be seen in the Peruvian and Paraguayan governments’ (failed) mediation of the XO Laptop distribution.
On that note, Beyond Imported Magic is also an excellent archive of a less obvious technological outcome. Its editors and contributors are very aware of the various states of creation, adaptation, and use of technology, but also aware, though perhaps with less explicitly commentary, of technological disuse in the Latin American context. Mexico’s decision to shut down its nuclear program and the educational and logistical failure of the One Laptop Per Child program, as illustrated by Anita Say Chan, Morgan G. Ames, and Gisela Mateos and Edna Suáez-Díaz, reveal a Latin American technological graveyard where the misguided, bad-intentioned, or simply naïve visions of Northern (and Latin American elite) techno-fantasists go to die. This is something I would like to explore further in my readings in the history of technology — a natural corollary to Edgerton’s call for histories of technology in use would be histories of technology in mis- and disuse. This is the flipside to the technological charisma Morgan Ames explores — charisma under false pretenses is a kind of charlatanism.
FOREWARD – MARCOS CUETO
- Vii – One issue that certainly appears clear in this publication is that scientific knowledge constructs its “ universal ”legitimacy depending not only on time, place, and field of study, but also on the agency of individuals, institutions, and nations.
- Has Latin America always been passive and derivative in terms of scientific creativity, or has it played a central role in the making of contemporary specialized practices? The answers coming from Latin America show, with increasing emphasis, that science and technology should be understood as an arena contested by a wide variety of individuals, institutions, and actors and through complex local processes of reception, rejection, adaptation, and hybridization. From this perspective, Western science could be understood as a process of polycentric networks, and as a global dynamic interplay in ever-shifting networks.
- Make sure my dissertation meets this standard
- This book offers several specific contributions to the literature. First, it addresses the complex and difficult coexistence of the significant advances made to Western science by Latin American centers of knowledge making and the asymmetry of knowledge production between Latin American nations and their counterparts in more industrialized parts of the world.
- Viii – Second, the authors in this book illustrate that the unique combination of modernity and underdevelopment in Latin America questions the “ natural ”frontiers between nature and society determined by politicians and science practitioners, making them appear clearly artificial.
- Third, in offering a detailed analysis of the day-to-day practices of scientists, engineers, and technologists, the book shows that these practitioners are close to the public reception of scientific knowledge, which they both produce and translate as they attempt to reconcile diverse lay and expert viewpoints. This is different from what often occurs in more industrialized nations, where there is often a larger gap between the mediation of scientific knowledge and the views of the general public.
INTRODUCTION: BEYOND IMPORTED MAGIC – Eden Medina, Ivan da Costa Marques, and Christina Holmes
- 1 – The essays in this collection employ critical frameworks from science and technology studies (STS) to formulate new ideas and knowledge about how Latin American peoples, countries, cultures, and environments create, adapt, and use science and technology.
- Two key themes run through the volume. First, its essays go beyond viewing science and technology in Latin America as imported from somewhere else and instead explore alternative views of how scientific ideas and technologies are created, move, change, and adapt. This may include travel from South to North; among Latin American regions, nations, and communities; and between different areas of the global South.
- decentering/disrupting center-periphery dynamics
- Second, these essays examine the specificities of Latin American experiences to understand science and technology more broadly. They thereby augment our understanding of such categories as global South, postcolonial, and developing and reveal new dimensions of the relationships among science, technology, politics, and power.
- 2 – Such views emphasize the transfer of supposedly superior technologies and ideas from North to South and do not acknowledge that innovation, invention, and discovery take many forms, occur in multiple contexts, and travel in many directions, nor do they acknowledge that diverse communities use scientific ideas and technologies in different ways.
- The essays ’serious engagement with science and technology in Latin American contexts shines a light on this less studied aspect of Latin American life while illustrating the limitations of common diffusion narratives. Such narratives give institutions and individuals in the most industrialized regions of the world disproportionate credit for scientific and technological creation, erasing the contributions of all other participants in this process and presenting those in other areas of the world, such as Latin America, as passive recipients or followers.
- 4 – These [postcolonial] modes include studying the situated nature of technoscience; the connection and reconfiguration of the local and the global; the coproduction of identities, technologies, and cultural formations; and the transnational movement of people, practices, and technologies.
- Latin America, a region characterized by colonial ties to Spain and Portugal and comprising nations that typically gained independence in the first part of the nineteenth century, does not fit the historical mold of much of the postcolonial literature. 6 For this reason some scholars of Latin America have argued that the term postcolonial unnecessarily homogenizes experiences of colonization and decolonization.
- 5 – These scholars also reject the idea that the region has undone colonial relationships or moved beyond them, as the term postcolonial might suggest. Instead, they argue that colonialism has changed over time as power has shifted from European colonizers to creole elites to those with connections to the metropolitan centers and global markets.
- 6 – In doing so, they explore how science and technology have played a role in perpetuating structural inequalities among nations and facilitating the spread of European, US, or Soviet ideas of modernity, even as the legacies of such ideas mutate when they are reused ( Kowal, Radin, and Reardon 2013 ). At the same time, as the essays that follow demonstrate, Latin America provides scholars a space to study alternative epistemologies that challenge Western “ scientific ”ways of knowing or call into question science and technology policies that travel from North to South but are ill suited to Latin American realities or socially unjust.
- 11 – Although she credited the emerging field with fostering a deeper understanding of the role of science and technology in development (which was in keeping with the early interests of the field in the 1960s and 1970s), she also expressed discomfort with the conceptual dependency of Latin American scholarship on intellectual production in the United States and Europe. 13 This concern remains, given that many of the theoretical frameworks found in the STS literature on Latin America have originated in France, Great Britain, or the United States (although, as this book illustrates, theories change as they are invoked in different historical, cultural, and geographical contexts and often become more nuanced in the process).
- Imported STS theory analogous to imported sci/tech
- 12 – The first part examines the politics of knowledge and representation in specific Latin American contexts and possible frames of analysis for studying science and technology in the region. The second traces the circulation of scientific ideas within community, national, and transnational networks. The final part addresses the mechanisms through which scientific projects and technologies are linked to Latin American politics and political will. This includes how Latin American politics have shaped the historical development of science and technology in the region and how science and technology have shaped the contours of Latin American politics and history.
WHO INVENTED BRAZIL? – HENRIQUE CUKIERMAN
- 27 – The scientific expeditions to Brazil ’ s vast hinterland undertaken by the institute between 1911 and 1913 are particularly important for understanding the role of science in constructing Brazil as a modern nation. These expeditions allow us to see the interactions between local and global forms of knowledge in the locations in which they came into contact and the tensions this contact produced.
- 27-28 – Third, these stories of scientific expeditions feature an oscillation between colonized and colonizers on the part of the scientists involved. On the one hand, Brazilian scientists had a colonized fascination for modern science, which was introduced into the country together with the cosmopolitan life existing in splendid isolation on the coast. On the other hand, in the anguish of the traveler-scientist confronted with the misery and unhealthiness of the inland regions, these scientists also appear as colonizers who aim to correct those ills through modern science.
- In a certain sense, this was a struggle of those scientists against themselves, fractured between two characters, the Brazilian scientist colonized by European science and the Brazilian scientific colonizer of the country, entrusted with the civilizing mission of guiding it toward modernity.
- Intra-colonialism — applicable to my diss
- 34 – As pointed out in the study by Lemon and Medina (this volume), the oscillation between “ civilization and barbarism ”is commonly found in descriptions of Latin American modernization projects.
INNOVATION AND INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT IN THE SOUTH: A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE – Mariano Fressoli, Rafael Dias, and Hernán Thomas
- 47 – As Medina, Marques, and Holmes argue in the introduction to this book, science and technology studies (STS) scholars in Latin America have a strong tradition of critiquing foreign science and technology (S & T) models of development and their unidirectional model of technology transfer. One of the most salient issues in this trend has been a critique of the failure to relate “ universal ”research agendas to the pressing needs of the local population, a critique that has also been instrumental in producing alternative, autonomous agendas for the development of S & T.
- In addition to this critical STS stance on “ universal ”S & T models, a more marginal and less studied source of critique has been social movements and networks that are oriented toward the use of local S & T capabilities to construct solutions for greater social inclusion. Scholars in innovation and development have hailed these movements and networks, which have been recognized as experimental spaces offering alternative pathways of cognitive production and technological change.
- Latin America has a long though not very well known history of alternative innovation and technologies for social inclusion, mainly based on the work of centers of appropriate technology in the late 1960s and 1970s.
- 48 – In this chapter, we examine two competing — though not necessarily contradictory — approaches to inclusive innovation in South America and India. Our aim is to understand how different approaches in South America and India imply different politics of knowledge regarding participation in the innovation process, empowerment, and thus distinctive ways of fostering social inclusion. By comparing the cognitive praxis of these initiatives we seek to analyze their lessons and constraints for policy making on innovation and social inclusion in the region.
- 49 – That older appropriate technology approaches still overlap with new initiatives in the region has led to an ongoing debate about what concepts and methodologies are most suitable here. While some actors remain committed to earlier terms and visions related to appropriate technologies and the transfer of technologies, others explore new strategies, including a dialogue between scientific and local knowledge. At the same time, other actors encourage new, more participatory dynamics within the innovation movement to strengthen cooperatives and solidarity economic initiatives.
ONTOLOGICAL POLITICS AND LATIN AMERICAN LOCAL KNOWLEDGES – Ivan da Costa Marques
- 85 – This kind of Western common sense is established as a result of a specific ontological political perspective adopted in the production of modern scientific knowledge. This ontological perspective approaches reality through a process of discoveries of forms or objects (entities) that are assumed to already exist in Nature (e.g., oxygen, microbes, atoms) or, alternatively, in Society (e.g., homo economicus, law of supply and demand, “ the iron laws of society ” ), although Society is presumed to have a Nature that is the subject of study of the social sciences.
- 87 – In Latin America, despite criticisms since or even prior to the 1990s, dominant approaches to technoscientific issues are still based on reductionist development and diffusion models. The first configures development as a process formed by discoveries or inventions of facts and artifacts in successive stages, and the second configures those facts and artifacts of modern (i.e., Western, Euro-American) technosciences as stable entities that propagate themselves throughout societies by causing “ impacts”.
- After a couple of decades, I argue, these “ new directions ”have led science and technology studies (STS) to a place from which there is a possibility of attributing respectability and value to different kinds of knowledges. Although these “ new directions ” originated in the United States and Europe, where modern sciences had historically been conceded the attributes of universality and neutrality, they have led research to matters very important for Latin Americans.
- At the same time they have also stressed the value and increased the respectability of local knowledges. Indeed, the previously presumably universal facts or truths have become the Western local facts and truths that have spread all over the planet, which sets a level of equivalence (not equality) with different types of knowledge and makes them easier to assess and compare.
Technology in an Expanded Field: A Review of History of Technology Scholarship on Latin America in Selected English-Language Journals – Michael Lemon and Eden Medina
- 111 – The converse is also true in the history of technology, which as a field has not given significant attention to Latin America. For example, of the 272 articles published in the first twenty-one years of the premier history of technology journal, Technology and Culture, only five — 2 percent of all articles published — pay central attention to a Latin American country.
- 113 – We have three purposes in this essay. The first of these is to argue that the history of technology in Latin America enriches our understanding of Latin American history and technological change. The second is to review a subset of the published literature on the history of technology in Latin America in English-language journals. Although it is tempting to think that not much scholarship has been produced on this topic, we assert that a literature does exist but can be difficult to identify because it spans disciplines and is often written by people in disciplines other than history. The last is to use this analysis of published literature to identify and discuss new areas for future scholarship.
- 114 – Three recurring findings that emerged from this analysis illuminate how scholars have approached technology history in the past and may also guide future research. The first is that the literature on technology in Latin America frequently uses technology to connect the experiences of historical actors to international relations and economic policies, often through discussions of modernization, industrialization, and dependency. The second is that the literature emphasizes the role of labor and focuses attention on workers as agents of historical and technological change. The third and final finding is that the literature is less concerned with moments of technological invention and innovation than with processes of technological adaptation and use.
- 125 – This discussion has broadly addressed how scholarship on Latin America can enrich investigations of technology and how the history of technology can broaden studies of Latin American history. Moreover, we have argued that this form of cross-fertilization promises to benefit both fields. The history of technology offers Latin American studies a powerful way to study materiality and connect studies of resistance, discourse, affect, ideology, and social movements to studies of business, policy, economics, culture, and international relations. At the same time, a greater engagement with the history of Latin America will push historians of technology to broaden the geography of the field, make technology history more human (through studies of labor and marginalized groups), and engage with international political and economic configurations and inequalities.
South Atlantic Crossings: Fingerprints, Science, and the State in Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Argentina – Julia Rodriguez
- 155 – The formation of powerful paradigms like the universal reliance on fingerprint identity not only highlights the role of social and political exigencies in scientific “ discoveries. ”It also reminds us, across the board, of the dangers of vesting in our scientists omniscience about social problems. As this story of science crossing borders shows, the intertwined relationship of scientific knowledge and political imperatives, while representing a genuine step forward for forensic science, had both intentional and unforeseen consequences on the ability of immigrants and citizens alike to move freely in society
Tropical Assemblage: The Soviet Large Panel in Cuba – Hugo Palmarola and Pedro Ignacio Alonso
- 159 – This chapter examines the construction and history of one of the largest social housing projects in Latin America, which began in 1963 with the arrival of a Soviet-financed factory in Santiago de Cuba to produce large concrete panels. The introduction of the Soviet large-panel factory was important to the Cuban Revolution, as it demonstrated how industrial technologies could standardize ways of living and advance Fidel Castro ’ s plans for an egalitarian socialist utopia. Although it further involved the Soviet Union in the activities taking place on the island, the large concrete panels produced in Cuba became not merely a Soviet but a hybrid Soviet-Cuban technology as they were redesigned by Cuban architects and engineers to make the system feasible for use on the island. In this essay, we analyze how architects and engineers adapted this technology for local conditions, and the intercultural dialogue this exchange entailed between the Soviet Union and Cuba.
- 161 – The imported large-panel factory, which traveled from the Soviet Union to Cuba via ship, and the panels themselves, which traveled throughout Cuba via local trucks and ships, represented the Soviet hegemony: a deploying of technological components as control and colonization strategies, what Alexander D ’ Hooghe (2005) has termed “ civilizing devices.”
- 162 – Although it arrived in Cuba with the authority of a global technology proven in different countries, it acquired additional symbolic power in the context of the rhetorical tropes used by the Cuban Revolution.
- 166 – The similarity between Cuba ’ s adaptations and those made in some of the Soviet republics suggests that we cannot see Cuba ’ s variations as strictly local, but rather as solutions and reinterpretations that emerged from the complex combination of imported technologies, local traditions and situations, and transnational exchanges. As Bruno Latour asks, “ How long can a social connection be followed without objects taking the relay? ”(2005, 78). The modified panel is itself a tangible relay, or a tropical assemblage, of the translation and intercultural dialogue between Cuba and the Soviet Union.
- 167 – The Cuban case therefore shows that Latin Americans did not simply accept large-panel technology as a form of imported magic but adapted the technology to their needs. These modifications then traveled back to the Soviet Union and altered Soviet ideas about prefabricated housing.
- 172 – David Edgerton (1998 ; 2007 ) reminds us that studying its use is a very important part of studying technology. This idea is pertinent to Latin America in light of its reliance on imported products, which it then copies, adapts, or mixes with local techniques to form hybrids. In the case of the Soviet large-panel technology in Cuba, white-collar professionals such as engineers and architects made some of the early design adaptations, although workers and residents also played an important role in adapting the technology to fit the Cuban environment.
Balancing Design: OLPC Engineers and ICT Translations at the Periphery – Anita Say Chan
- 187 – Such insistence that laptop access was “ the only ”relevant question suggested that existing education-centered actors — from teachers to local communities — were virtually negligible and could be regarded as external to deployments.
- 189 – That OLPC could leave a breadth of local actors — from rural teachers to communities — unaccounted for in their scripted projections not only minimizes the role such actors play in actual (and idealized) education practices; it advances prescriptions for social worlds (and global models more broadly) in which these actors could be virtually omitted, and where the only crucial factor would be that of perfectly designed and operating foreign technology — worlds, in short, effectively defined by imported magic.
- 198 – Knowledge and new technologies, that is, never simply diffuse automatically from centers of production, planning, and calculation into remote peripheries — like forms of imported magic — but depend on processes of local translation among involved actors who negotiate transformation processes as multidirectional potentials.
Translating Magic: The Charisma of One Laptop per Child ’ s XO Laptop in Paraguay – Morgan G. Ames
- 208 – To explain the laptop ’ s symbolic power, I develop the idea of a charismatic object . Charisma as a sociological construct was theorized by Max Weber (1947) to describe the exceptional, even magical, authority that religious leaders seem to have over followers. Though charisma usually refers to the power of humans, not objects, the word has been applied to nonhumans as well.
- Is charisma a useful concept for my work? Is the green rev package charismatic?
Peaceful Atoms in Mexico – Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz
- 287 – This chapter provides an interconnected history of the promotion and peaceful uses of atomic energy in Mexico during the first decades of the cold war. This was a rich period in the development of Mexican science and its institutions, which exhibited both a strong nationalistic sentiment and an intensified international character. In large part this is because, as Greg Grandin has said, the cold war ’ s “ transcendental force ”relied on the “ politicization and internationalization of everyday life ”.
- 288 – To speak of how Mexican science was shaped during this period requires us to acknowledge the often-contradictory role of international and national politics, and the intense circulation of people, materials, instruments, and knowledge between Mexico and other countries, in particular the United States. This focus on circulation refuses the idea that knowledge (science and technology) is imported from big centers of production and passively consumed at the periphery. Instead, we argue that local contexts are equally productive of reality.
- The chapter, moreover, charts Mexico ’ s troubled path toward nuclearity, and the role of nationalism in the decision to build and, eventually, halt the nuclear energy project. Finally, the concluding remarks discuss the prominent role of Mexico in signing the first atomic weapons nonproliferation treaty in the context of cold war goals and anxieties. It raises a set of specific questions for further understanding global histories during this period.
- Mexico’s decision to stop its nuclear program — and the failure of OLPC — hint at an interesting additional category of analysis of the history of technology beyond invention, innovation, adaptation, and use: disuse
- 289 -Compared to the developments discussed above, scholars of the history of cold war science in Latin America and Mexico have been rather slow to respond to the debates taking place in the international community of historians of science. This is somewhat unexpected, given that critiques of science and technology have abounded in Latin American social sciences since the late 1950s and especially after the 1970s. Such critical accounts arose as a reaction to theories of development which prescribed that economic and political progress would arise from the transfer of science and technology from North to South ( Basalla 1967 ).
- 297 – What is the pending agenda for an interconnected history of cold war science in Mexico? To answer this question, a few historiographic issues should be considered. First, scholars in this field need to include international archival sources. Given the interconnection of global and local science in this period, this is a crucial requirement.
- 298 – Finally, the processes by which postwar American hegemony was built need to be carefully analyzed as a co-construction. The circulation of students and scientists, data, materials, and scientific practices gives shape to shared practices and knowledge. Circulation requires standardization and, as such, can be a channel for hegemonic views, consisting of measures, methods, goals, and institutional bureaucracies.
Creole Interferences: A Conflict over Biodiversity and Ownership in the South of Brazil – Ana Delgado and Israel Rodr í guez-Giralt
- 331 – Unlike commercial seeds, creole seeds are presented as embodying diversity and being old. Yet, in a sense, they are always new entities, as they are endlessly adapting to local environmental conditions, always in a temporary state, waiting for their next realization.
- Just like all “traditional” things
- In this chapter, we explore how the once neglected local seeds have been called back into being as legal and public entities under the name of “ creole ”and how they have coexisted with an already present legal entity, the commercial seed. As we shall see, this coexistence developed as a conflictive situation in which creole seeds, despite being diverse and temporary entities, had to be stabilized somehow. Attempts at integrating the creole seeds into national legal, scientific, and bureaucratic systems resulted in a number of interferences, in-between zones in which new ways of identifying, classifying, and registering the seeds had to be produced and new forms of ownership recognized. This chapter tells the story of those encounters and generations.
- 331-32 – It does so by evoking the idiom of displacement, conviviality, and disruption that is, in a way, the idiom of creole. This story of coexistence connects to other partial episodes in the Brazilian agrarian history, a history of conflict. We shall introduce here three such episodes to provide some insights on how creole seeds became public entities in Brazil.
- 332 – One of the ways in which modernity arrived in Brazil was through the “ imported magic ” of agrarian development and new technologies that would revolutionize agriculture. Part of this “ magic turn ”of agrarian development relied on the promise of social progress and wealth, and part relied on a trick of oblivion and displacement. While local practices were labeled as old and backward, agrarian experts from the national public system promoted standard methods for large-scale agriculture that were to turn Brazil into a modern nation. As the “ local ”seeds, knowledges, and markets were displaced, standardized varieties of crops were promoted as public entities.
- 336 – In what follows, we describe how a number of bureaucratic and technical devices were put in place in an attempt to define and capture creole seeds. We also describe how these devices have systematically failed. Creole seeds are evanescent entities that escape existing ways of ordering, and as such, they generate a new way of ordering that has been revealed in a number of interferences.
- 336-37 – Arguing for this ecological advantage of creole seeds, the Brazilian rural movements of Via Campesina and the National Agroecology Association (ANA) have launched a number of projects to promote farmers ’adoption of creole seeds. They link diversification to security not only in an ecological sense, but in the sense of ensuring farmers ’economic autonomy (autosubsistence), liberating them from dependency on distant markets (food sovereignty).