In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Science and Technology in Modern Latin America

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Local and Transnational Knowledges and Practices
  • The Politics of Science and Technology
  • Biological Sciences
  • Computing and Informatics
  • Energy
  • Gender
  • Industrialization
  • Race and Genetics
  • Transportation and Communications

Latin American Studies Science and Technology in Modern Latin America
José Ragas
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0230


Science and technology are witnessing an auspicious moment in Latin America. Once associated exclusively with dictatorships, economic turmoil, and social unrest, the region is becoming an important technological hub according to the media and specialized magazines. Among the explanations for this “techno-scientific moment” is that scientific communities are expanding scholarly networks to communicate their findings in other languages, applying to external funding, pressing for more national funding, and carving a niche in the competitive scenario of journals and collaborative projects. A geopolitical shift has also contributed to this surge. For instance, the end of the embargo era promises a new epoch of cooperation between scholars in Cuba and the United States, something that we could only have imagined until a few years ago. As this occurs on the surface, scholars and resources keep flowing in multiple directions, strengthening less visible networks that serve as platforms for the next stages of creativity and innovation in the region. Techno-scientific communities are trying to find their own niches based on their own backgrounds by developing nascent areas and training future experts. New journals such as Tapuya: Latin America Science, Technology and Society and the visibility of minorities and vulnerable populations represent a good sign. It is also a good sign that science and technology in Latin America are no longer confined to laboratories and campuses. They are now part of the public debate in social media and the streets, where citizens and scientists engage in discussions on how governments should support scientists and knowledge as engines of development and democracy. To highlight the research on science and technology developed by scholars in and of Latin America, this bibliography offers a comprehensive compilation of references published in the last forty years. I have considered science and technology in a broader spectrum, suggesting studies that use the Science and Technology Studies (STS) approach even indirectly. Therefore, this bibliography compiles references extracted from books, edited volumes, journals, dissertations, newspapers, and websites. The references cover a chronological arch from the wars of Independence to the present published in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Due to the flexible and expansive nature of the STS field, which can also include the study of the environment and history of medicine, I have focused on areas that have not been covered by previous bibliographical essays. I encourage readers to complement this essay with other essays already published by Oxford Bibliographies: “Agricultural Technologies,” “Environmental History,” and “History of Health and Disease in Modern Latin America.”

General Overview

The recent interest in Science and Technology Studies (STS) as a field on its own in Latin America has conspired in having a single comprehensive textbook. A task certainly impossible given the complex evolving techno-scientific scenario as well as the robust scholarly production in various language, approaches, and scholarly traditions. Special issues appeared in journals and magazines have been crucial in mapping the literature while highlighting the accomplishment and future lines. The compact profile of such dossiers also encourage interdisciplinary participation as well as broader analysis. In 2014, Nature featured the four major “big players” in Latin American science and the areas where its scientific community has reached impressive accomplishments (Catanzaro, et al. 2014). La Fuente and López Ocón 1998, Vessuri 2002, and, most recently, Kraimer and Vessuri 2018 document the state of the art nature of the field, tracing the history of the STS approach, and future scenarios for scholars and researchers. For those unfamiliar with this approach, Vaccarezza 2004 brings an introductory survey and its impact among local scholars. Long-term surveys can be found in Cañizares-Esguerra and Cueto 2002, where these two prominent historians of science offer a brief yet comprehensive view of the genealogy of scientific knowledge in the region, from colonial times to the 20th century. Furthermore, Saldaña 1996 provides an ambitious portrayal of the field and is very helpful for nonscholars and students. Although transnational or global frameworks are helpful to transcend the nation-state centered vision, volumes like Tinajero and Freeman 2013 and Petraglia Kropf and Hochman 2011 insist on the relevance of examining the circulation of technologies within the national scope. In studying Mexico and Brazil, respectively, these essays highlight the role of techno-science in the complex nation-building process, offering evidence and arguments to engage with other disciplines and themes. Finally, Vélez-Cuartas, et al. 2016 tackles the issue of how scientific research from Latin America and the Caribbean is part of an ongoing debate pertaining the specific place of regional productions within a global landscape dominated by English language.

  • Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge, and Marcos Cueto. Latin American Science: The Long View. NACLA: Report on the Americas.” 35.5 (March–April 2002): 18–22.

    A short yet substantial review of the scientific development in the region. Both authors advocate for a new history of science from the region that highlights the local practices and scientific achievements of experts exposed to global debates. Such experts were active builders of international networks and institutions where “applied” areas such as medicine, natural history, and engineering attracted numerous students. In addition, they created their own versions of scientific knowledges by merging them with local debates and political projects.

  • Catanzaro, Michele, Giuliana Miranda, Lisa Palmer, and Aleszu Bajak. “South American Science: Big Players.” Nature (June 11, 2014).

    This special issue reveals a different face of Latin America by focusing on the less publicized scientific advancements accomplished over the last decade. “Bright spots” like Chile, Brazil, Colombia, and Argentine provide the scenarios where science is thriving and overcoming obstacles such as short budgets, regional inequality, lack of training centers for future professionals, and the difficulties to retain PhD students in their own countries.

  • Kraimer, Pablo, and Hebe Vessuri. “Latin American Science, Technology, and Society: A Historical and Reflexive Approach.” Tapuya. Latin American Science, Technology and Society 1.1 (2018): 17–37.

    DOI: 10.1080/25729861.2017.1368622

    Departing from the notion of “reflexivity,” both authors assess the trajectory of the STS field in Latin America, from a militant, radical, and developmentalist approach in the 1960s to a vast and heterogeneous field, which seeks to transcend disciplinary boundaries within social sciences and with natural sciences as well. Because of the many dimensions incorporated in this study—such as quantitative, institutional, productive, and cognitive—this is the most comprehensive examination of the field.

  • La Fuente, Antonio and Leoncio López-Ocón. “Bosquejos de la ciencia nacional en la América Latina del siglo XIX.” Asclepio 50.2 (1998): 5–10.

    DOI: 10.3989/asclepio.1998.v50.i2.334

    In the introduction to this edited volume, the editors emphasize the silence that has characterized the historiography on science and technology referred to in Latin America. The nine essays in this compilation seek to rebuke the portrayal of the region as a group of “countries without science” by reviewing major contributions to the field since the 1980s from a Latin American perspective. The authors also discuss themes such as center-periphery, power, public health, nationalism, and circulation.

  • Petraglia Kropf, Simone, and Gilberto Hochman. “From the Beginnings: Debates on the History of Science in Brazil.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 91.3 (2011): 391–408.

    DOI: 10.1215/00182168-1300128

    Following Nancy Stepan’s seminal book on the early Brazilian science, this essay reviews the scholarly production on the history of science in the country between 1980 and 2000. The essay frames this emerging literature within a nascent narrative that rejected a diffusionist model of scientific knowledge and, in turn, recognized and embraced the peripheral nature of Brazilian science as a key element for a new understanding.

  • Saldaña, Juan José, coord. Historia social de las ciencias en América Latina. Mexico City: Coordinación de Humanidades, 1996.

    The fifteen essays of this volume offer a comprehensive view of the history of science and technology, since pre-Columbian times to the end of the Cold War, blurring national frontiers and privileging the transnational circulation of scientific knowledge.

  • Tinajero, Araceli, and J. Brian Freeman, eds. Technology and Culture in Twentieth-Century Mexico. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013.

    From railroads to the cyberspace, this edited volume offers a survey of Mexicans’ encounters and misadventures with technology in the decades after the Mexican Revolution. Authors stress the social aspect of this encounter and the multiple ways ordinary citizens embraced and repurposed modernity in the public sphere and their own daily lives.

  • Vaccarezza, Leonardo S. “El campo CTS en América Latina y el uso social de su producción.” Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad 1.2 (2004): 211–218.

    The articles argue that the consolidation of STS from the 1980s in Latin America was the result of four intertwined elements: (a) its alignment with the global development in terms of innovation; (b) the adoption of sociological (and constructivist) perspectives in spaces like laboratories; (c) a new historiographical turn that connected local experiences such as “periphery” within a broader framework; and (d) studies on applied scientific knowledge for companies and research centers.

  • Vélez-Cuartas, Gabriel, Diana Lucio Arias, and Loet Leydesdorff. “Regional and Global Science: Publications from Latin America and the Caribbean in the Scielo Citation Index and the Web of Science.” El Profesional de la Información 25.1 (2016): 35–46.

    DOI: 10.3145/epi.2016.ene.05

    This essay assesses the role of SciELO, an emergent and open access scientific publication database among scholars in Latin America and the Caribbean. SciELO constitutes a valid alternative for scholars who persist in publishing either in Spanish or Portuguese, and whose published work is invisible in other publication systems, namely the Web of Science.

  • Vessuri, Hebe, ed. Special Issue: Innovation Context and Strategy of Scientific Research in Latin America. Science Technology and Society 7.2 (2002).

    Coordinated by Hebe Vessuri, this special issue explores key aspects of Latin American scientific communities and their articulation with external challenges, especially since the 1990s boom on policy reforms and research and development projects. The essays, which focus on Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina, pay attention to institutional and research management responses to integrate new methods, disciplines, and organizational relations in spaces such scientific meetings and laboratories.

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