skip to main content

Society for Social Studies of Science

4S News

Introduction to Latin American STS, Part One


4S going south for the first time in its history is, above all, an opportunity for members to engage with a long, rich, and fruitful tradition of Science and Technology Studies in Latin America. In this message, and following a historical account proposed by Kreimer et al.1 , I would like to offer you a short account of the beginning of this tradition, which we could arbitrarily situate in the 1960s. In order to organize this story, we could say that the beginning of STS in Latin America revolved around three actions in which academics were involved: (1) to make visible local scientists and their contexts; (2) to criticize lineal models of innovation, and (3) to recognize the limitations of mainstream social theories of science. As in other places, the origins of the field can be thought of as a continuum of individual (and institutional) interventions to transform reality, a conviction that many – in science and beyond – seem to have shared at that time.

Making visible Latin American science required academics (most of them historians) to highlight the life and work of preeminent local scientists (such as Oswaldo Cruz in Brazil and Bernardo Houssay in Argentina), focusing on their talent and vision. Others studied the institutional context and social conditions for science to develop, producing an externalist perspective that was complemented by scholars, such as José Babini in Argentina and Eli de Gortari in Mexico, who studied disciplines and gave birth to an internalist approach to science and technology. Both perspectives relied on theoretical frameworks proposed in the central countries.

At the same time, some engineers and scientists engaged in criticizing the lineal model of innovation and introduced a new vocabulary to deal with the role of science and technology in the area. What is now known as Pensamiento Latinoamericano en Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad (PLACTS)2 – Latin American School on Science, Technology and Society – explored topics such as ‘national projects’, ‘implicit and explicit policies’, ‘technological styles’, and ‘technological packages’ among others, with which they attempted to describe how science and technology had unfolded in Latin America. Amílcar Herrera, Jorge Sábato and Oscar Vasavksy (Argentina), José Leite Lopes (Brasil), Miguel Wionczek (Mexico), Francisco Sagasti (Peru), Máximo Halty Carrere (Uruguay), and Marcel Roche (Venezuela) are only a few of the scholars of this school of thought, which was more interested in action than in academia. Because of that, many of them played key roles in the development of national systems of research in their countries.

Finally, sociological and anthropological approaches to science and technology, influenced by structural-functionalist sociology, were hardly developed in the region, perhaps due to the criticisms received by this school as conservative. In a context of unstable political conditions in which social sciences were more focused on conflict and Marxism became mainstream theory to understand social life, Edmundo Fuenzalida (Chile), Simon Schwartzman (Brazil), and Marcel Roche (Venezuela) made important contributions to STS by focusing on the development (and constraints) of national scientific communities.

Between 1960 and 1980, these individual interventions did not translate necessarily into institutional design.3 Since 1980, however, the field of STS in Latin America has expanded and strengthened, but this will be part of our next messages.
  1. Kreimer, P. Thomas, H., Rossini, P. and Lalouf, A. (eds) Producción y uso social de conocimientos. Estudios de sociología de la ciencia y la tecnología en América Latina, Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes Editorial.
  2. For more information, see
  3. More about this phase of STS in Latin America, see Vessuri (1993) (