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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession I: Science and technology as formative factors of contemporary civilization - from domination to liberation
close this folderScience and the making of contemporary civilization
close this folderJ. Leite Lopes
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. The physical image of the world
View the documentII. Science and underdevelopment in Latin America
View the documentIII. Science and dependent development
View the documentIV. Endogenization of science in which society?
View the documentV. The aims of science
View the documentVI. Science for liberation
View the documentNotes

II. Science and underdevelopment in Latin America

The above is only a sketch of some of the basic lines of our physical image of the world. Others might tell you about the foundations of the biologist's picture of the universe, of the points of view of the chemist, the geophysicist, the mathematician, the social scientist.

We see that modern science had its birth in the seventeenth century and became associated with the emergence of capitalism in West European countries. Little by little, empirical inventions of machines and mechanisms, the study of nature in laboratory, the search for new products, and the understanding of the laws of nature furnished the instruments for the technological and scientific transformation of the world. At the same time, in other civilizations and societies, many of them subjugated by conquest and war, similar processes did not take place.

Immersed in a different historical context, subjected to specific religious, cultural, political, and economic forces, these societies did not develop the search for scientific knowledge - or were not allowed to continue such a development - and thus lacked basic tool, for the transformation of the world and indeed for ensuring their very survival.

Once the inequality among nations was established due to their different forms of interactions with the physical world, economic and political forces were bound to act in order to increase this inequality. 11 And the development of the emerging industrialized societies apparently arose associated with the economic and political domination of other societies, the present underdeveloped nations or, if you wish to change the nomenclature, the less-developed countries.

In Latin America, as you know, the Spaniards and Portugese conquered he native peoples of this continent, and employed efforts to destroy their religious systems and their cultural achievements. The civilizations in the Andes - the Incas - in the Mexico plateau and in Yucatan - Aztecs and Mayas - had reached important levels of material and cultural development before the invasion in the first half of the sixteenth century.

Mathematics, which included the utilization of the number zero, and astronomical knowledge, which included the prediction of eclipses, were achievements of those civilizations, which also developed techniques in agriculture, architecture, and engineering, as well as an artistic culture, which were transmitted from generation to generation.

The replacement of the local cultures by those of Western Europe as brought about by Spain and Portugal did not lead, however, to a scientific development in our part of the world, as was taking place in Europe.

It is true that Spain and Portugal made superb achievements which culminated with the discovery of continents through the development of the art and sciences of navigation. Several factors, however, such as the great influence of religion and the power exercised by religious authorities in those two countries, prevented them from participating in the European creation of science in the seventeenth century.

It is not my purpose to describe the effect of this on the evolution? Or science in Latin America.12 Names and data can be found in books and specialized articles. It will be seen that, in spite of difficult conditions of work, many talented scientists did important work in many countries of our continent, mainly after the second half of the nineteenth century. What is of the greatest interest to us is to see that the state of political and economic dependence of our countries could not allow the flourishing of culture and science. The colonies of Central and South America were regarded as places rich in primary materials to be exported to the expanding capitalist countries of Europe. And these in turn exported to the Latin American colonies their industrial products. "[Latin America], it is not unjust to say, saved the British cotton industry in the first half of the nineteenth century, when it became the biggest market for the English exportations.''13

The proclamation of political independence did not change the nature of the economic system in those countries - it was rather an opening toward their domination by Great Britain. At the same time, an ideology was taking form which stated that the process of economic development was a kind of game, of free competition, where the most intelligent and most dynamic peoples are successful. Political and economic domination in fact prevented other societies, other peoples, from competing in these games.14

And inside our countries, the national ruling classes, partners of those in the dominating foreign powers, developed an ideology according to which our countries have as a vocation the exportation of raw materials necessary to the expansion of the capitalist industrialized countries.

"It was accepted," states Velho, "that we [in Brazil] would never be able to produce industrial goods so well as English and other countries and that if we attempted to do so and became projectionists we would certainly suffer retaliations against our agricultural exportations.''15

Subsequently, the transformation of the economies of Latin American countries by means of the import-substitution industrialization, started in the beginnings of the twentieth century, had as a direct consequence the importation and the imitation of products and of the means of production invented abroad, the purchase of technology developed in the advanced countries.

It is thus important to emphasize that the character of economic dependence was essentially kept untouched, although under another form, when the Latin American countries ceased being formal colonies of Spain and Portugal. The search for manufactured products equal or similar to those which were imported led immediately to a technological dependence from abroad - the scientific and technical knowledge necessary to industrialization in Latin America was incorporated in the machines and plants imported from abroad.

In parallel to this situation of the economy, the medieval Christian image of the world was imposed in education. Universities were founded late in Latin America - and the exceptions do not change the general feature of lack of scientific education and its subsequent effect on the life of our nations. Clearly, the absence of industries implied no need for technological and scientific research institutes. And it is perhaps not exaggerated to say that the universities which were founded early in Latin America, in the seventeenth century, were rather centres dedicated to the study of the medieval-inspired culture developed in Spain and Portugal.

In the last few decades, a great effort has been made towards the development of universities and scientific institutes in many countries of Latin America. Following the industrialization process, many universities and scientific laboratories were founded or further supported and developed.

However, in spite of this expansion of the university system, of science and culture, the fact is that the industries which are owned by Latin American industrialists depend basically on imported machinery and technology.

And these industrialists have never been preoccupied with the technological research necessary to the improvement of the quality of their manufactured goods. Associated to foreign enterprises, from which they buy equipment and technical assistance, the national industries in Latin America almost never called for technical services by the national technological institutes.16 In this way, Latin American universities have generally been dissociated from the studies for economic projects; scientists and technologists have not been called to help make fundamental decisions in the formulation of the economic development programmes of these countries.

In the advanced industrialized countries, on the other hand, the machines and plants which are invented depend on intensive technological research and this, in turn, is based on investigation on fundamental science carried out in their institutes and universities.