Tag Archives: Latin America

Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society – Enacting Southern Perspectives on STS

In August 2017 Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society was launched. This is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal affiliated to the Asociación Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (ESOCITE) and the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S), and published by Taylor & Francis. The word “tapuya” was used, on the one hand, by the Tupi in Brazil to designate people who do not speak the Tupi language as the Tupi do. On the other, some anti-colonial theorists have used the purported identity of this group as cannibals to articulate their own practice of “swallowing” northern practices and transforming them into something uniquely Latin American. By holding two differing definitions, the betrayals of translation and the productive tensions of simultaneously being part and not part of a specific community are concerns of this innovative new STS journal.

Tapuya was born more than a year earlier. In May 2016, a workshop titled “Postcolonial and Latin American STS,” organized by Tiago Ribeiro Duarte and Luis Reyes-Galindo, took place at University of Brasilia. After that, Sandra Harding and Leandro Rodriguez Medina, current Editor-in-Chief, started to think about creating a new journal, based in Latin America but with a global scope. The goal was to productively intervene in the colonial institutional structure of periphery social sciences as well as to contribute to increase the visibility of high quality Latin American scholarship in Science and Technology Studies. Rodríguez Medina and Harding spent several months interviewing editors and managing editors of other journals, securing the generous advice of a number of senior 4S and ESOCITE scholars, and making inquiries of leading English-language publishers. After positive feedback, a contract with Taylor & Francis was signed in June 2017.

In order to reach the widest audience, we made two difficult decisions. First, the journal would be published in English. Without ignoring the epistemic and political effects of the lingua franca, we decided that the need to engage in productive dialogue with other communities in the global South was a significant priority. Yet we also decided to continue to reflect on the language issue in STS. Future publications and clusters in Tapuya will be devoted to this topic. Secondly, the journal would be published by a global publisher, situated in the North. We believe that synergy can be produced between Tapuya and Taylor & Francis as long as they both recognize what they can provide. T&F has a long, successful tradition of publishing top quality journals, including five hundred in the social sciences. It has the technical capacity to deal with the entire process of publishing, from submission to marketing of articles. It also has experience in getting journals indexed in the most relevant scholarly databases, which has become a crucial, though controversial, requisite in many countries in Latin America and abroad. Tapuya, on the other hand, can provide a group of Latin American scholars committed to STS research, high quality scholarship, and a long tradition of reflection on science and technology, as our first published article makes evident (Kreimer and Vessuri 2017). Moreover, Tapuya is willing to become a node in a global network that can provide resources to begin to balance the long-unbalanced structure of the academic world. It will do so by shedding light on neglected subjects, topics and methodologies, thereby strengthening STS.

Tapuya aims to bring together Latin American and international researchers to focus on issues such as center/periphery relations, the dynamics and organization of scientific fields, connections between science, technology and social problems (e.g. poverty, social exclusion or inequality), the uses and modes of production of knowledge, including indigenous knowledge, the national, regional, and international mobility of scientists and engineers, their ideas, and normative systems, the relationships between universities, private sectors and the state (firstly theorized by Jorge Sábato in the 1960s), and the roles of STS within diverse Latin American societies. Accordingly, we expect to publish research articles, literature reviews and book reviews, as well as interviews and non-textual pieces (e.g. videos with authors’ comments). For literature and book reviews, we will encourage scholars to review scholarship originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese. If possible, reviewed pieces in other European and non-European languages will be particularly welcome.  This entanglement of thematically-related works is an important way to make Tapuya the realm where provincializing STS, now reclaimed even by Northern scholars, can take place.

Thus, Tapuya has three interrelated missions. One is to engage diverse social, economic and political actors in debates around science, technology and analyze their influence in the future of Latin America. Secondly, it intends to be a gathering place to enact STS networks of scholars across the global south; it will strengthen what global northerners think of as “periphery studies”. Finally, the journal intends to foster global, wide-ranging dialogues between centers and peripheries. Yet Tapuya wants to problematize to what extent these last-mentioned categories are useful in current STS thinking. It will do so by focusing on how STS strategies in the global north have effects in Latin America and the global south, and how STS strategies in the global south have effects in the global north. In these several ways Tapuya will reposition Latin America as the conventionally disallowed subject  of thought about science, technology and society—not as the object of others thinking.

To achieve Tapuya’s goals, we have set up two academic boards: the Editorial Board and the International Advisory Board. Half of the Editorial Board, whose members were invited in August 2017, are made up of Latin American scholars, including one official ESOCITE representative, while the other half are from outside the region. For the International Advisory Board, appointments initially went to a small number of the many significant STS scholars, half Latin Americans and half from around the globe. Both boards will give advice to the journal and shepherd to Tapuya  appropriate manuscripts, books and book reviewers.

Tapuya has received funding support from generous institutions and scholars. Donations of start-up funds for Tapuya’s first five years have been provided by three University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) units, for which the journal is most grateful: the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, the UCLA Luskin College of Public Affairs, and the UCLA Latin American Institute. Meanwhile, Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) is contributing resources to the Editor-in-Chief and Taylor & Francis is partially funding an editorial office in Puebla, Mexico. Further donations from within the STS community have helped to support the launch of the Journal.

Three editorial principles are especially important. First, Tapuya is a rolling, open access journal that always, in every case, prioritizes the quality of submissions over authors’ ability to pay the Article Publishing Charge (APC) that cover publication expenses. Authors of all accepted papers, regardless of background, will be able to request a fee-waiver, which will then be judged on its merits, with oversight from the Editor-in-Chief. Financial issues will never influence editorial decisions.  Secondly, Tapuya is a peer-reviewed journal. All non-commissioned submissions will be double- blind peer reviewed. Commissioned submissions, such as book and literature reviews, will be reviewed by the journal’s Editor-in-Chief, with the expectation that they will be accepted if they meet the journal’s publication standards. Thus, all submissions must meet international standards for high-quality American English. Yet we want to make clear that Tapuya does expect submissions from scholars who are not native English speakers; so the journal commits to embrace this diversity within the review process. Finally, Tapuya intends to have transparent processes and prompt communication with authors. The editors intend to make each manuscript’s journey through submission and review processes as quick as possible, and to keep authors informed of where their submission is in this journey.

Finally, we want to invite artists, scholars and readers to be part of Tapuya in another, but challenging, way. Every year, we want to change the two pictures that are on the cover of the journal. This year, the photo and painting were provided by Luis Reyes-Galindo, researcher at University of Campinas and one of the Associate Editors. As you can read in his introduction to the cover (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/25729861.2017.1359424) both images are connected to the origins of Tapuya, in Buenos Aires (2014) and Brasilia (2016). We want Tapuya’s cover to show how Latin American science, technology and society can be variously depicted and can illustrate the diversity of this region.

In conclusion, we hope you will enjoy joining us in this scholarly and socio-political adventure that is Tapuya as much as we are enjoying  bringing the journal to you.


The centrality of lateral economic objects: examples from Latin America

On July 1st, 2016 the workshop ‘Social Studies of the Economy in Latin America’ took place at the Science and Technology Studies Department, University College London. The meeting convened a number of scholars who work at the intersection of social studies of the economy, STS, sociology and the anthropology of economic knowledge. The workshop focused on leading research that offers a close-up examination of economic life. In particular, it engaged ethnographic and historical perspectives on the multiple ways in which the economy, culture and technology intersect, and on the way in which economic subjects and objects are constituted and performed.

The kinds of research objects discussed in the workshop go beyond the usual economic entities and processes often examined by Latin American scholars in the social studies of the economy, such as markets, competition, money, economists and finance. Instead, most of the participants investigate assemblages of lateral epistemic objects which play a critical but relatively humble role in the orchestration of the economy, e.g. indexes, databases, economic news and regulatory figures. The research presented aimed to show how the production of different types of knowledge relates to the constitution, contestation and regulation of economic forms and processes, which are considered to be more central in public debate – e.g. inflation, competition, economic prospects and customers. Broadly speaking, three kinds of epistemic objects were discussed: public numbers, private numbers and economic news.

Economic News

Mariana Heredia and Claudia Daniel take a long-term historical view of the way inflation is publically framed and understood in contemporary Argentina. Analysing the way price increases were discussed in the news of the two major newspapers (La Nación and Clarín) between the 1940s and 1990s, they distinguish two clear periods. From the 1940’s to the 1970s, inflation was presented as a social and political phenomenon, in which social leaders representing workers and branch industries played key roles in disputing state involvement in price control. These national newspapers took clear ideological standpoints on inflation, standpoints reflecting different conceptions of the economy. While La Nación represented a liberal vision, Clarín promulgated a more interventionist approach. Notably, inflation during this period was an important problem for liberals, and particularly so during unstable years. Since the mid-1970s, however, inflation has not only continued at three digit levels, they argue, but its framing has also changed. As experts in economics were increasingly called to give their professional advice and opinion, ideological cleavages began to fade. Inflation came to be considered an urgent ‘economic’ problem shorn of clear ideological baggage, a problem involving all members of society equally, without regard to political orientation, a problem requiring the in-depth intervention of independent economic experts. The story they tell shows how inflation moved from being a general social and political problem to a technical, ‘economic’ subject fit only for experts.

In a similar vein, Tomás Undurraga investigates the assemblage of economic news by Brazilian journalists. Based on a multi-site ethnography of two influential newspapers in Brazil, he examines how the production of economic news involves journalists in mediating knowledge claims made by experts, policy makers and the lay public. Undurraga asks whether and how Brazilian journalists experience themselves as knowledge-makers. The paper describes how journalists aim to produce news that is marked by four main features: depth, authorship, influence and expertise. In doing this, this paper shows that journalists are more likely to consider newsmaking a contribution to knowledge when: they have the resources to do proper investigative reporting (depth); they are able to help define the public agenda through their reporting and to express their opinion on events (authorship); they have impact on the field they cover (influence) and their journalistic knowledge is recognised as a form of expertise by readers and specialists (expertise). In practice, however, there are multiple obstacles that make Brazilian journalists hesitant about their contribution to knowledge, including, intensified working conditions alongside other challenges of media convergence, the lack of plurality within the mainstream presses, journalism’s low professional status in Brazil, and difficulty in dealing authoritatively with experts from other fields.

Fig. 1. Workshop participants, from left to right: Tomás Undurraga, Tomás Ariztía, Mariana Heredia, Martín de Santos, Ana Gros, Gustavo Onto
Fig. 1. Workshop participants, from left to right:
Tomás Undurraga, Tomás Ariztía, Mariana Heredia, Martín de Santos, Ana Gros, Gustavo Onto


Public Numbers

Neiburg and Gross’ papers examined disputes concerning the production and circulation of public numbers and consumer price indexes through regulatory documents and policies. While public numbers play a key role in defining how the economy is shaped, such numbers are often constituted via historical knowledge practices through which specific versions of the economy are supported and others discarded.

Examining the way in which Argentina’s inflation dispute was framed, Federico Neiburg maps the genealogy and justifications of ‘economic emergencies’ as economic and legal objects. Exploring the state of “national statistical emergency” decreed by President Macri in December 2015, Neiburg discusses the juridical and political implications of intervening in the National Institute of Statistics. In this context, the paper maps a genealogy of devices and justifications for economic emergencies, which aim to suspend momentarily the rule of law and to encourage the normal, independent operation of markets. He shows how economic emergencies open a clear window onto the interconnections between everyday and academic categories relating to the ‘real economy’. Neiburg discusses how  “emergency” regulations designed to govern the economy allow action to be taken in relation to knowledge of economic life, such as the production of indicators. These actions are generally justified in defence of the ‘common good,’ and directly affect the ‘real economy’ and ‘people’s real lives’: prices, wages, contracts, employment, debts, savings and so on. Similarly to Heredia and Daniel, Neiburg shows how the production of ‘emergency’ situations relates to the practical implementation of technical numbers such as indicators.

Ana Gross takes the controversy generated around the validity of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in Argentina since 2006 as an empirical occasion to observe how public economic numbers are produced in an increasingly decentralized way. She explores two distinctive features of the controversy surrounding the proliferation of alternative inflation indicators: first, the public disaggregation of inflation databases that render the products and prices used to calculate CPI; thus transforming the way in which prices are visibilized; and second, the emergence of alternative inflation indicators based on different temporal modes of release and communication. The paper looks at how the observation, knowledge and experience of public economic numbers becomes re-organised when statistics are disaggregated to the point where they render the specificities of their calculations visible, and when official indicators like CPI become contested by other measures.

Private Numbers

We also examined objects such as databases and visualization techniques that help to shape and materialize economic subjects and states of affairs. These objects, such as antitrust policy charts and consumer databases, illustrate the mediating role that knowledge practices and devices play in shaping central economic objects and subjects – such as consumers, markets, and competition. These objects (Guyer, 2016) cannot be described as necessarily “economic”, since they are also used to enact things that are not necessarily considered economic. Further attention to these epistemic objects, however, expands the way we are prone to describe the economy.

Based on an ethnography of the Brazilian antitrust governmental agency – the Administrative Council for Economic Defense, CADE – Gustavo Onto explores the production and use of documents and graphic artefacts and the role they play in regulating market competition. Antitrust regulation involves a variety of administrative practices aimed at producing knowledge about specific markets, industries, companies and consumers, with the aim of facilitating decisions about, e.g., whether to authorise a merger between two companies, or to condemn anticompetitive practices like those of a cartel. These knowledge practices rely on the production and circulation of different bureaucratic artifacts that are critical for regulators to be able to visualize market competition, usually through tables, charts and percentages. Taking specific merger cases analyzed by regulators as examples, Onto argues that competition is not necessarily an abstract or theoretical notion when seen from the point of view of knowledge practices that frame the possibility of future harm to consumers and other companies. By contrast, he argues that competition can only be understood or visualized by regulators through specific material and graphic techniques that foreground a set of relations of similarity and difference between products, services and companies.

In a similar vein, Tomás Ariztía discusses how consumers are enacted in marketing datamining. Based on an experimental ethnography of the manufacture and analysis of a transactional dataset from a small retail company in Chile, Ariztía describes the practice of ‘number crunching’ – i.e. the process of creating, modifying and datamining transactional data during the production of consumer databases. In doing so, the paper describes the enactment of consumers in datamining as the outcome of a myriad of socio-material practices and devices through which specific accounts of the social world are rendered visible. The paper describes how the consumer that is enacted through datamining is the result of a practical operation of qualification deployed trough different digital infrastructures. In doing so, the paper explores two specific aspects of the production of consumer datasets: first, the central place of error as both a heuristic tool and an outcome of consumer data practices. Second, the paper explores how datamining for marketing purposes relies on multiple, humble valuation processes through which the data that “counts” is defined. These processes involve defining and mobilizing consumers in specific ways, while others are discarded.

Lateral Economic Objects

What do public and private numbers such as consumer price and inflation indexes, market share tables, consumer datasets and economic news have in common? On what grounds can these objects be labelled “economic”? How do they relate to the production of more well-known economic entities and processes, such as markets, prices or firms? In what follows we discuss some common threads among the papers. We do so by proposing two key arguments about the place that lateral epistemic objects occupy in the production of the economy.

First, the objects described are ‘lateral’ since they relate to processes such as indexing, prospecting scenarios and deploying an administrative procedure, which are not necessarily specific to processes of economization. At the same time, however, all these objects contribute to the assemblage of entities that go on to be considered central to economic life, such as consumers, prices, market competition and economic forecasts. This apparent tension points us to one of the core theoretical claims that is supported by a close reading of the work presented: namely, that the different epistemic objects that constitute the economic world do not necessarily relate to the processes of economization described by Çalışkan and Callon (2009; 2010). These objects instead participate in the production of the economy in a subtler, lateral manner. In other words, core economic entities rely on the mobilization of a plurality of non-economic processes and knowledges, which are key in shaping the economy, such as databases, news or excel tables. Core economic processes are therefore not as autonomous and sui generis as the work of Caliskan and Callon is often taken to suggest.

It is in this sense that we term the objects described in these papers as ‘lateral economic objects’. They take part in economization processes only in an indirect manner. They deal with practices and devices that constitute the economy in so far as they mediate further processes of economization, but they may play a similar role in processes that are not overtly economic. The relatively humble operation of, e.g., manufacturing indexes, regulatory documents, economic news, databases and market shares tables contribute to making the economy possible but are not themselves specific or exclusive to modes of economization. Eschewing the centre/periphery binary, ‘lateral objects’ illuminate other processes that are not necessarily less central to the economy but have received less attention in the making of the economy

The previous claim points us to a second, stronger one. As argued by Miyazaki and Riles (2005), not all the objects and practices that shape economic life need to be related in a direct fashion to processes of economization or marketization. Economic life is produced in ways which are not always convergent and that might involve the existence of different frictions in the production of the economy. In this sense, these papers dealing with the production of lateral economic objects illustrate how economic life is produced and assembled in different and divergent places, which are only partially related to one another. The contributors to the workshop thus attempt to develop an understanding of the economy that is open to the multiplicity and contestability of knowledges and materialities that shape economic life.

The focus on the laterality of the objects examined here raises a further question about the Latin American nature of our examples. How do these examples help us to understand the production of the economy in Latin American countries specifically? What do these various research projects focused on Argentina, Brazil and Chile tell us about the specificity of the economies of the region? Going beyond the traditional stereotypes with which the social sciences tend to label Latin America – e.g. as being a laboratory for economic experimentation, as being politically and economically hierarchical and a place of contestation and hoped for political change – these papers shed light on the socio-technical nature of the Latin American economies from an anthropological and sociological perspective. In this sense, the papers discussed here illuminate a second meaning of laterality, one that relates to the place that practices and devices have in the analysis of economic life in this region. In fact, contrary to a meta-narrative reading of Latin American political economy, these papers reveal the nuances and specificities of the economies in the area, and how these economies are locally constructed, governed and contested.

This workshop received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC grant agreement No. 283754. 

The organizers thank Tiago Mata, Asa Cusack and the members of the ‘Economics in the Public Sphere’ project for helping us put together the workshop