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Society for Social Studies of Science

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Buenos Aires at the Crossroads of STS – Part II


Since 1980s, the landscape of STS in Latin American has changed. A process of academization of the field took place vis-à-vis an increasing participation of STS scholars in government planning and policy making. Endowed with theories and methods (usually coming from Europe and the United States), academics were more concerned with rigorous empirical analysis which put aside more essayist-like approaches that had characterized the previous stage. As a consequence, ‘the structural interest (…) that had founded the field at regional and international levels, was displaced by micro-institutional and technocratic issues’.1

These microanalyses of science (with a focus on institutions, research groups, or even theories) paralleled a growing interest in a social history of science, critical of previous internalist perspectives. Additionally, externalist studies of technology begun to develop, especially at the Centro Interunidade de História da Ciência (CHC), at Universidade de São Paulo. Interestingly, these analyses allowed Latin American scholars to recognize important limitation of the theories received from the North. ‘On the one hand, previously accepted topics were revised from different perspectives (…) On the other, some – though a few – critical works were written in order to question the proficiency of new relativist concepts as explanatory mechanisms of local dynamics’.2 In a way, these studies contributed to extend a tradition of critical appropriation of foreign knowledge that had begun in the previous decades under the umbrella of the Pensamiento Latinoamericano en Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad school. Accordingly, the reflection about the peripheral condition of Latin American science and technology continued during this stage (with relevant contributions from scholars such as Hebe Vessuri, Renato Dagnino, Hernán Thomas, Pablo Kreimer, Marco Cueto, Leonardo Vaccarezza, and Pablo Zabala), along with other more policy-oriented themes, such as technological innovation (Judith Sutz, Rodrigo Arocena, Rosalba Casas, and Jorge Charum), and policies on science, technology, and higher education (Mario Albornoz, Enrique Oteiza).

Unlike the previous phase, institutional development become fundamental at this one. Linked with postgraduate programs in STS, most research in the field has been produced at the Departamento de Política Científica e Tecnológica (UNICAMP, Brazil), Departamento de História da Ciência (FIOCRUZ, Brazil), Departamento de Estudios de la Ciencia (IVIC, Venezuela), Instituto de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (Universidad de Quilmes, Argentina), Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales (UNAM, Mexico), and Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, as well as Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco (Mexico), Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina), Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), with an emphasis on its Programa de História das Ciências e das Técnicas e Epistemologia; The Research Group NECSO - CNPq /Núcleo de Estudos de Ciências - Tecnologias - Sociedade (Brazil); Centro de Estudios Peruanos (Peru), Universidad de La Habana (Cuba) and Universidad Nacional (Colombia). Without a bond with postgraduate programs, these institutions have also undertaken research on STS: Comisión Sectorial de Investigación Científica de la Universidad de la República (Uruguay), Centro Interunidade de História da Ciência (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil), Casa de Oswaldo Cruz (Brazil), the Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo Económico y Tecnológico at Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua (Mexico), the Grupo de História e Teoria da Ciência at Universidade Estadual de Campinas, the Sociedad Mexicana de Historia de la Ciencia y de la Tecnología, the División de Historia de la Ciencia at Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Físicas, Exactas y Naturales, among others.

The scholars from these institution were devoted also to creating spaces for interaction. As a consequence, some professional societies (such as Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología – ESOCITE – and Asociación Latino-Iberoamerican de Gestión Tecnológica) have regularly organized conferences since the mid-1990s. Other important institutions, such as UNESCO, International Union of Philosophy of Science, Latin American Studies Association, Organization of Ibero-American States, and the Ibero-American Program on Science and Technology (CYTED) also organized academic events in the region, giving rise to longstanding contributions, such as the Red de Indicadores de Ciencia y Tecnología Iberoamericana/Interamericana (RICYT), the Red de Investigación CTS+I and the Manual Latinoamericano de Indicadores de Innovación Tecnológica (Latin America Manual of Technological Innovation Indicators), known as the Manual de Bogotá.

Publications have also made it possible for scholars to interact, although the landscape of journals is complex because only a few publications have been able to appear regularly. These are Quipu (Mexico), oriented to history of science; Interciencias and Espacios (Venezuela), focused on science and technology management and, to a lesser extent, on social studies of science and technology; Redes - Revista de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia (Argentina), oriented to all areas of STS and especially to sociology of science. Occasionally, articles on STS topics can be found in Ciencia y Desarrollo (Mexico); Ciencia, Tecnología y Desarrollo (Colombia); Colombia Ciencia y Tecnología (Colombia), the institutional journal of Universidad INCCA (Colombia); Comercio Exterior (Mexico) and, since recently, CTS-Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad (Argentina), which has been sponsored by Universidad de Salamanca (Spain), Organization of Ibero-American States, and the NGO Grupo Redes (Argentina).

By the turn of the century, STS in Latin American was institutionalized and more or less integrated to the debates of the field at international level. Postgraduate programs, mobility of students and scholars, and participation of STS academics in the policy-making process were determinant factors to strengthen the presence of science and technology in the public domain. However, there remain some challenges for the new generations of scholars. As Vaccarezza has pointed out, ‘the efforts of doing research and systematic theories were isolated and have had a low impact: be it on society as a whole, on public policies, on professional groups linked to technology management, on scientific community’.3 So a tension between groups with high academic pretensions at both theoretical and methodological level and groups involved in criticizing the development of science and technology through interventions outside the academic field seems to be a defining feature of the field in the beginning of the 21st Century. But we will reflect more on this issue in our next message.

1. Kreimer, P. Thomas, H., Rossini, P. and Lalouf, A. (eds) 2004 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, p. 44.

2. Kreimer et al, op. cit., p. 48.

3. Vaccarezza, L. 2004 ‘El campo CTS en América Latina y el uso social de su producción’, CTS Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad, 2(1): 211-218, p. 215.