Eden Medina – Beyond Imported Magic

22 August, 2021 - examPrep

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. 




INTRODUCTION: BEYOND IMPORTED MAGIC – Eden Medina, Ivan da Costa Marques, and Christina Holmes









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


South Atlantic Crossings: Fingerprints, Science, and the State in Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Argentina – Julia Rodriguez


Tropical Assemblage: The Soviet Large Panel in Cuba – Hugo Palmarola and Pedro Ignacio Alonso 


Balancing Design: OLPC Engineers and ICT Translations at the Periphery – Anita Say Chan


Translating Magic: The Charisma of One Laptop per Child ’ s XO Laptop in Paraguay – Morgan G. Ames


Peaceful Atoms in Mexico – Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz 


Creole Interferences: A Conflict over Biodiversity and Ownership in the South of Brazil – Ana Delgado and Israel Rodr í guez-Giralt

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