Amérique Latine

Natural resources as scientific objects:

Production of knowledge and socio-political legitimation in Argentina and Mexico


The purpose here is to outline the social and institutional evolution of disciplines related to natural resources. We will follow three methods here: a thorough work in the archives, qualitative and quantitative surveys (through interviews and questionnaire) and bibliometric studies focused on some disciplines (natural products chemistry, botany, ethno-botany, pharmacology, biochemistry, conservation biology ) or related to some natural resources (maize, medicinal plants, water, forestry, improved genetics of seeds). All of these studies will be conducted from a socio-historical perspective.ArgentinaandMexicowill be compared.

It is possible to distinguish three factors for the transformation of science since the end of 1960’s:  (i) the multiplication of actors, (ii) the “big science” with very large projects targeting complex issues (cancer, climate change, etc…) and (iii) a combinatorial organisation of science.  While some disciplines languish (botany), others bloom (soil science), expand (ecology) or attempt to emerge (a new kind of transdisciplinarity triggered a deep change in scientific practices and identities. We are witnessing now a re-configuration of traditional fields (e.g. botany) and the emergence of new ones, like molecular biology, ecology and biotechnology and, more recently, nanosciences. Coalitions are forged and grow through the dialogue with public or governments.


Case studies: focus on some disciplines and some natural resources

Case studies of natural products chemistry (Mina Kleiche-Dray, IRD, France), ethnobotany and conservation biology (David Dumoulin, Paris III, France and Jean Foyer, CNRS, France) focus on institutional history and on links with other disciplines. Two doctoral PhD are conducted on related subjects: the first involves the participation of the Mexican scientific community in the field of sapogenin steroid research (1950-1975), largely supported by the Rockefeller Foundation (Yoscelina Hernandez Garcia, DCTS, Cinvestav, Mexico); the second analyses the role of The Mexican Institute for the Study of Medicinal Plants, established in 1975 as part of the creation of the Collaborating Centres for Traditional Medicine for the construction of alternative medicine in several developing countries (China, India, Egypt, Madagascar), supported by WHO ( Susana Carolina Guzman, DCTS, Cinvestav, México).

In these cases, we will try to understand: the impact of “industrial upgrading” policies of the 1950s in the guidelines for research on natural resources in Mexico, as well as the impact of the search for alternative development in a country like Mexico since the 1970s, on the basis of its cultural and natural specificities.

We will describe the selected subjects in specific contexts and their links to various disciplines including botany, biology, ecology, agronomy and pharmacology.  In Mexico, in the nationalist contexts of the 1970s, the early research on environment and rural development made by semi-public research centres was followed by the austerity of the 1980s, in which themes of self-development became central, before the emergence –during the 1990s– of new paradigms taking into account biodiversity and the environment.


Bibiometric analysis and surveys : Pier-Luigi Rossi (IRD, France), Roland Waast (IRD, France), Etienne Gérard (IRD, France), Pablo Kreimer (Conicet, Argentine)

Bibliometrics is based on a set of databases that goes through a number of journals.  Bibliometric analysis can display the evolution of scientific production in a country over a period of time.  Thus, a bibliometric study by country consists, first, in bringing together all the production of papers of this country in a particular database. Then, a division is made, according to, for instance, the affiliation of the authors (like their city, institution or laboratory). It is then possible, for example, to define the profile of the production of a city, or a theme, or to “cross” both of them.

As part of our WP5, the idea is to implement an historical approach and to observe how certain keywords appear, disappear and even change in studies on natural resources.  We want to go beyond the traditional approaches by analysing texts, by considering the content of documents and counting the “key” words they include.  It is then possible to calculate the frequency of a word in a set of articles (represented as a words cloud) and to observe its evolution over time.  A second step consists in analysing the frequency of co-occurrence of words: it is possible to define then the words most frequently used and how they relate to each other.

We will use the bibliometric study as a research, as case studies analysis per se and as a tool that will help us to establish quantitative and qualitative samples to deal with qualitative and quantitative surveys on natural resources, as a research topic for scientists. This will allow us to identify and characterise the factors that structure the research on natural resources in LAC.

How is the research agenda defined? We assume that training and scientific cooperation are crucial, not only in terms of teaching and scientific contents, but also in terms of socialization: the “ways of doing” science, in terms of contact with peers and in terms of networks. So, to what extent do the training of researchers – in terms of trajectories and place of training – and partnerships play a role in these research guidelines? Also, to what extent is research the product of networks of researchers, local and foreign or not?  These questions allow us to highlight the issue of the conditions and the logics of production and spreading of knowledge in sciences that have natural resources as their object of research. The result will also consist in the building of a data base and a meta-review of the scientific production on Natural Resources in Latin America. Several preliminary bibliometric studies focused on Latin American data bases, such as the SNI (sistema nacional de los investigadores) data base, which has recorded all Mexican scientists’ publications since 1982. We have to carry out an identical research work to analyse the case of Argentina, where the Conicet database should allow us to conduct a comparative study.  In addition, the existence of the Periodica data base, which has recorded the main scientist’s publication in Spanish since the end of the 1970s, should allow us to develop a study about other Latin American countries. These data bases will enable us to analyse the evolution of scientific knowledge on natural resources through scientific production (papers and patterns) and to select the more relevant scientific disciplines which positions “natural resources” as a topic.

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