, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 141–164 | Cite as

Reaching for the Stars? Astronomy and Growth in Chile



While scholars and policy practitioners often advocate for science and technology transfer as a motor for economic growth, many in Latin America have long warned of the pitfalls of such top-down, North-South transfers. To many in Latin America, scientific aid or cooperation from the North has often reproduced hierarchies that perpetuate dependency. Large astronomy observatories located in Chile – with a high price tag, cutting-edge technology, and seen to answer seemingly arcane research questions – seem ripe for reproducing precisely these kinds of hierarchical relationships. Using data from documents, interviews, and a site visit to Gemini South, one of several large telescopes in Chile, this paper takes a historical perspective to examine how resilient these hierarchical relationships are. Over forty years, astronomy in Chile grew thanks to new policies that fostered cooperation among universities and gave locals privileged access to the telescopes. But the community also grew in ways that reproduced dependency: foreign science benefits significantly, the Chilean state operates in top-down ways, and its support for science leaves it blind to the benefits high-tech telescopes deliver to Chile, which are not linked to export-led growth. The state appears as both an obstacle and an enabler to the growth of a national scientific community.


Big Science Astronomy Chile Development Periphery 


  1. Adler, Emanuel. 1987. The Power of Ideology: The quest for technological autonomy in Argentina and Brazil. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  2. Allende, Jorge, Jorge Babul, Servet Martinez, and Tito Ureta (eds.). 2005. Analisis y Proyecciones de la Ciencia Chilena 2005. Santiago, Chile: Academia Chilena de Ciencias, Consejo de Sociedades Cientificas de Chile.Google Scholar
  3. Almohsen, Rehab Abd. 2013. Middle East synchrotron seeks peace through cooperation. SciDev.NET. http://www.scidev.net/global/migration/feature/middle-east-synchrotron-peace-cooperation.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  4. Arocena, Rodrigo, and Judith Sutz. 2005. Latin American universities: From an original revolution to an uncertain transition. Higher Education 50(4): 573–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barandiaran, Javiera. 2015. Chile’s environmental assessments: Contested knowledge in an emerging democracy. Science as Culture: 1–25. doi:10.1080/09505431.2014.992332.
  6. Barandiaran, Javiera. 2012. Threats and opportunities of science at a for-profit university in Chile. Higher Education 63: 205–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beigel, Fernanda (ed.). 2013. The Politics of Academic Autonomy in Latin America. Surrey: Ashgate Press.Google Scholar
  8. Benchimol, Jaime. 1999. Dos micróbios aos mosquitos: Febre amarela e a revoluçao pasteriana no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Fiocruz y Editora UFRJ.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Blanco, Victor. 2001. Telescopes, Red Stars and Chilean Skies. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 39(1): 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Catanzaro, Michelle. 2014a. Chile: Upward Trajectory. Nature 510: 204–205. 12 June 2014.Google Scholar
  11. Catanzaro, Michelle. 2014b. Chile puts plan for science ministry on hold. Nature 507: 412–413. 27 March 2014.Google Scholar
  12. Catanzaro, Michelle. 2012. Chilean scientists oppose funding-agency relocation. Nature News. http://www.nature.com/news/chilean-scientists-oppose-funding-agency-relocation-1.11464. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  13. Chang, Ha-Joon. 2007. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Development. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  14. CNIC. 2007. Hacia una Estrategia Nacional de Innovacion para la Competitividad. Santiago: Consejo Nacional de Innovacion para la Competitividad.Google Scholar
  15. Conicyt. 2001. Programa Fondecyt: Impacto y Desarrollo 1980–2000. Santiago: Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica.Google Scholar
  16. Constable, Pamela, and Arturo Valenzuela. 1991. A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Dictatorship. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  17. Cueto, Marcos. 1997. Science under Adversity: Latin American Medical Research and American Private Philanthropy, 1920–1960. Minerva 35(3): 233–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Diaz, Elena, Yolanda Texera, and Hebe Vessuri. 1983. La ciencia periferica: ciencia y sociedad en Venezuela. Caracas: Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo.Google Scholar
  19. Dickson, David. 2012. South Africa’s astronomy project must show local benefits. SciDev.NET. http://www.scidev.net/global/digital-divide/editorials/south-africa-s-astronomy-project-must-show-local-benefit.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  20. Editorial. 2014. Open Goal: International researchers can help to improve the scientific enterprise in South America. Nature 510: 188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Environmental Impact Declaration for the Thirty-Meter Telescope. 2008. Filed by Data Research on behalf of the TMT Corporation to Conama.Google Scholar
  22. Gordon, Mark. 2005. Recollections of “Tucson Operations”. Amsterdam: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Guerrero, Pablo, and Mary T.K. Arroyo. 2014. Base policy on evidence. Nature 510: 212.Google Scholar
  24. Frank, Alison. 2014. Why the EU and Africa must cooperate on astronomy research SciDev.NET. http://www.scidev.net/global/technology/scidev-net-at-large/why-the-eu-and-africa-must-cooperate-on-astronomy-research.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  25. Fressoli, Mariano, Rafael Dias, and Hernán Thomas. 2014. Innovation and Inclusive Development in the South: A critical perspective. In Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America, eds. Eden Medina, Iván Da Costa Marques, and Christina Holmes, 47–66. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hurtado de Mendoza, Diego, and Ana María Vara. 2007. Winding Roads to Big Science: Experimental Physics in Argentina and Brazil. Science, Technology & Society 12: 27–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. IAU (International Astronomical Union). 2012. Astronomy for Development: Strategic Plan 2010–2020. http://www.iau.org/static/education/strategicplan_2010-2020.pdf. Accessed 7 April 2015.
  28. Knorr-Cetina, Karin. 1999. Epistemic Cultures: How the sciences make knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kreimer, Pablo. 2006. ¿Dependientes o Integrados? La ciencia latinoamericana y la nueva división internacional del trabajo. Nómadas 24: 199–212.Google Scholar
  30. Kreimer, Pablo. 2007. Social Studies of Science and Technology in Latin America: A field in the process of consolidation. Science, Technology & Society 12: 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kreimer, Pablo, and Juan Pablo Zabala. 2006. ¿Qué conocimiento y para quién? Problemas sociales, producción y uso social de conocimientos científicos sobre la enfermedad de Chagas en Argentina. Redes 12: 49–78.Google Scholar
  32. Leighton, Paula. 2014. Chile not benefiting enough from big astronomy. SciDev.NET. http://www.scidev.net/global/engineering/news/chile-not-benefitting-enough-from-big-astronomy.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  33. Maloney, William F. 2007. Missed Opportunities: Innovation and Resource-Based Growth in Latin America. In Natural Resources: Neither Curse nor Destiny, eds. Daniel Lederman, William F. Maloney, and World Bank, 141–182. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Makoni, Munyaradzi. 2011. South Africa-hosted astronomy office to push development. SciDev.NET. http://www.scidev.net/global/technology/news/south-africa-hosted-astronomy-office-to-push-development.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  35. McCray, Patrick. 2004. Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mukerji, Chandra. 1989. A Fragile Power: Scientists and the State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Perkins, Nick I. 2012. Is the World ready for Scientific Diplomacy? SciDev.NET. http://www.scidev.net/global/science-diplomacy/editorials/is-the-world-ready-for-scientific-diplomacy–1.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  38. Rodríguez Medina, Leandro. 2014. Centers and Peripheries in Knowledge Production. New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Schell, Patience. 2013. The Sociable Sciences: Darwin and His Contemporaries in Chile. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sabato, Jorge. 2004. Ensayos en campera. Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes Editorial.Google Scholar
  41. Schwartzman, Simon. 2008. The Leading Latin American Universities and their Contribution to Sustainable Development in the Region. In University and Development in Latin America: Successful experiences of research centers, ed. Simon Schwartzman, 5–20. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Schwartzman, Simon. 1991. A Space for Science: The development of the scientific community in Brazil. University Park, PN: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Senthilingam, Meera, and Jon Spaull. 2014. Can Astronomy projects deliver benefits closer to home? http://www.scidev.net/global/technology/feature/astronomy-africa-telescope-education.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  44. Shinn, Terry, Jack Spaapen, and Venni Krishna (eds.). 1997. Science and Technology in a Developing World. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  45. Tatalovic, Mico. 2014. Italy appoints its first science attaché in Sub-Saharan Africa. SciDev.NET. http://www.scidev.net/global/technology/news/italy-appoints-its-first-science-attach-for-sub-saharan-africa.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  46. Traweek, Sharon. 1992. Big Science and Colonialist Discourse: Building High-Energy Physics in Japan. In Big Science: The Growth of Large Scale Research, ed. Peter Galison, 100–128. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Van Noorden, Richard. 2014. South America by the numbers. Nature 510: 202–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vessuri, Hebe, Jean-Claude Guedon, and Ana María Cetto. 2014. Excellence or quality? Impact of the current competition regime on science and scientific publishing in Latin America and its implications for development. Current Sociology 62(5): 647–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Vessuri, Hebe. 1986. The Universities, Scientific Research, and the National Interest in Latin America. Minerva 24(1): 1–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Vessuri, Hebe. 1987. The Social Study of Science in Latin America. Social Studies of Science 17(3): 519–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Vessuri, Hebe. 1994. Foreign scientists, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Origins of Agricultural Science in Venezuela. Minerva 32(3): 267–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Visacovsky, Sergio. 2002. El Lanús: Memoria y política en la construcción de una tradición psiquiátrica y psicoanalítica argentina. Buenos Aires: Alianza.Google Scholar
  53. Witze, Alexandra. 2013. ALMA strike stirs up Chilean labour unions. Nature 501: 292–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Williamson, Roger. 2015. Focus on Poverty: Taking Aid to the next level. SciDev.NET. http://www.scidev.net/global/agriculture/analysis-blog/focus-on-poverty-taking-aid-to-the-next-level.html. Accessed 5 March 2015.
  55. Winner, Langdon. 1980. Do Artifacts Have Politics? Daedalus 109: 121–136.Google Scholar
  56. Zabala, Juan Pablo. 2010. La enfermedad del Chagas en la Argentina: Investigación científica, problemas sociales, y políticas sanitarias. Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes Editorial.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global and International Studies ProgramUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

Personalised recommendations