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The Blood Stream of Science: Science and Politics in Latin American Modernity

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Organizer: Brais D Leon

Co-Organizer: Leila Gomez

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The notion of science as detached from society has been the focus of ongoing debates among scientists and sociologists alike. A recurrent position in this debate has been to think that the development of a specific scientific result and procedure happened exclusively inside the laboratories and academic institutions, that there was something intrinsic to the scientific endeavor that remained impermeable to its social, political, and economic contexts. Bruno Latour uses the metaphor of “the blood streams of science” to refer to the way in which every scientific knowledge retro-feeds of numerous translations that allow its object of study (what he calls non-humans) to be integrated into the world of humans, using as an example the numerous companies, industrial partners, political and scientific actors that conditioned and made possible Joliot’s experiments with the neutron bomb during the Second World War. Following Latour’s emphasis on the role of discourse in the construction of the scientific object of study and its historic conditions, we propose to reassess the intersection of science in the political, socio-economic, and ideological dynamics of the Latin American societies from the 19th to the 21st century. This panel seeks to explore the multiple translations and intersections between science and society in Latin America, not restricting its meaning to the natural sciences but also acknowledging the incorporation of the social sciences and the disciplines of the humanities into the realm of science since the rise of Positivism in the Turn of the Century. Besides considering the political impact of seminal scientific figures like Humboldt and Darwin, this panel proposes to explore often forgotten failed scientific projects and scientists that remained in the peripheries of the scientific discourse of their respective historic moments, such as Florentino Ameghino’s theory of matter, Germán Burmeister’s ideas on immutability of species, José Vasconcelos’s dietary and hygiene theories, the nuclear program of Juan Perón in Argentina, and the embracing of cybernetics by Salvador Allende’s Government in Chile, among others. By looking into failed and residual scientific theories, we aim to open a debate about the way in which science operates in Latin American societies and how, regardless of its scientific failures, theories and projects mobilize a scientific imaginary that has a crucial impact in the articulation of political, ideological, and artistic projects in its local contexts.        

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