“Centring on the Periphery”: STS Field in Latin America

“Centring on the Periphery”: STS Field in Latin America

Report of the Ninth Meeting of ESOCITE in Mexico, June 5-8, 2012

Every two years, starting in 1995, a Latin-American Congress has gathered a community of 100 to 400 STS researchers under the organization of the ESOCITE (Sociedad Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología): Buenos Aires-Argentine (1995), Caracas-Venezuela (1996), Querétaro-Mexico (1998), Campinas-Brazil (2000), Toluca-Mexico (2004), Bogotá-Colombia (2006), Rio de Janeiro-Brazil (2008), Buenos Aires-Argentine (2010), Mexico (2012).

ESOCITE is an active and dynamic STS network, based on a previous trajectory of more than 50 years. From the publication by Olga Gasparini (1969) of the first study in the sociology of science in Latin-America, to today, science studies in the region has achieved an exceptional and very rich exploration. Arellano-Hernández A., Arvaniis R., & Vinck D. (2012), ‘Circulation and worldwide connexion of knowledge. Elements of Anthropology of knowledge in Latin-America’, Revue d’Anthorpologie des Connaissances, 6(2) provides an introduction to this work. The trajectory advanced major questions of science policy like: how to give social and political legitimacy to research activities? Which instruments can coordinate research policy? How do scientific communities structure? How could science and technology answer the needs of the region? Sociologists, anthropologists and historians engaged STS studies to continue the questioning opened by physicists, mathematicians and natural scientists preoccupied by the orientation of research activities since the sixties. They were thinking about the dependency of science and technology towards northern countries. They created an original tradition called “Latin-American thinking about science technology, development and dependence” (PLACTS).

Over six decades, the Latin-American science and technology studies community has grown and developed with research groups, publications and journals, congresses and teaching activities. The journey could be divided in three periods:

  1. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the field emerged around the “Latin-American thinking about science technology, development and dependence”. The main focus of study was scientific disciplines and dynamics.
  2. From the 1980s to the 1990s, institutionalization of STS occurred with the organization of research groups in sociology, social history, anthropology, political science and economics of technological change. They questioned the relevance of science of subaltern or peripheral countries.
  3. From the 1990s to now there has been a consolidation of the field with conferences and research groups engaged in post graduate teaching. These groups work on peripheral sciences and the social utility of scientific and technological knowledge.

The main goal of ESOCITE is to promote STS in the region and, with a critical perspective, to stimulate and to institutionalise post graduate and PhD education, to support academic publications (notably REDES – Revista de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología) and dissemination (e.g. the web site http://www.uaemex.mx/esocite/), to establish relations with similar societies like 4S and EASST and to generate proposals, which can orient science and technological policies in the region.

As well as organizing a Congress every two years, since 2002 ESOCITE has organized a doctoral school where a limited number of PhD students or young researchers meet STS academic leaders over three days for in depth discussion of their on-going research. This meeting takes place in the year when there is no Congress.

The ESOCITE Congress, which just took place, was opened by a stimulating lecture by Hebe Vessuri on “Social knowledge in the globalizing era”. Four plenary sessions provided the opportunity for general discussion on:

  • Research institutions and education of human resources in STS.
  • Approach and methods for STS.
  • STS and science, technology and innovation policies.
  • Innovation and social inclusion.

The 350 participants then presented and discussed their research work in workshop structured around six topics:

  • Institutions, disciplines and Sc&T fields.
  • Processes of production, use and collaboration in Sc&T.
  • Technology, innovation, applications, risks and social problems.
  • The role of Sc&T in the local and regional development.
  • Politics of science, technology and innovation.
  • Public participation, democratization and ethic implications.

The general ambience acted to overcome shortcomings in terms of fragmentation of the field and to reflexively think about the role and possibilities of Latin-American STS in a globalized world. The meeting was an opportunity to address the problematic issue of structuring, or not, the STS field. Very constructive presentations, from Antonio Arellano, went back to the 1400 presentations made during the previous ESOCITE Congresses (1995-2010), looking for the subjects, disciplines and geographical distribution of participants. Another interesting reflexive exercise was the analysis by Ivan da Costa of the Rio 2008 Congress, looking for the connections inside and outside cited authors. As a result of the meeting, participants agreed on the importance of pursuing the regional exchanges, of bridging separated sub-fields and re-opening the political debate around Sc&T.