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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Turbulent Science: Temporality, Proximity, and Scientific Practice in Mexico

  • Author(s): Bejarano, Cristina Teresa
  • Advisor(s): Zhan, Mei
  • et al.
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Social and cultural studies of science have often left linear time unquestioned while making the important observation that progress is not the inevitable trajectory of science. In the anthropology of time, relativist accounts have tended to focus on nonlinear kinds of time. This ethnography contributes to these two bodies of literature by demonstrating how the flow of time is highly variable, producing complex understandings of the past, present, and future and their relationship to each other. These multiple temporalities are crucial to understanding how science is envisioned, the kinds of research questions that are asked at particular moments, and how research trends eventually take shape. It argues that scientists are not merely in time but are actively constructing various kinds of time through the relations they form between themselves, objects, ideas, and temporal reference points that often have a spatial dimension.

This ethnography uses the particular case of genomic science in Mexico to show how constructions and experiences of time affect scientific knowledge production and practices. Biomedical researchers in Mexico often face an array of material, technological, institutional, and linguistic challenges. Laboratory materials can take two to six months to arrive yet researchers have also learned to anticipate unexpected delays. Most laboratories lack the newest and more efficient laboratory equipment. Institutions frequently implement policies that directly affect researchers without giving proper notice. Mexican biomedical researchers are required to publish in English in the top journals in their fields, but they often report unfair rejections of their manuscripts due to their country of origin. These challenges give the sensation that time does not progress into the future at a constant speed, but rather varies tremendously. This is compounded by the fact that many biomedical researchers from Mexico have studied and worked at very privileged institutions in the U.S. and Europe. In other words, they have experienced science in contexts where time can seem to progress into the future at a constant and predictable speed. This ethnography shows how these experiences and constructions of time influence which research questions and fields of study Mexican biomedical researchers ultimately decide to pursue.

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This item is under embargo until December 10, 2020.