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Unfinished Prospects: Microbes and Collaborative Networks in Panama’s City of Knowledge

  • Author(s): Morales, Alberto E
  • Advisor(s): Maurer, Bill
  • et al.
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Abstract

This ethnography examines how newly arising financial configurations of biotech research assemblages in Panama are changing local and global understandings of scientific collaboration and, subsequently, the relations among people, species, and nations. This study analyzes the social, scientific, and political-economic contexts of natural product scientists in a private, non-profit, and state-supported science park, the City of Knowledge. Natural products scientists are interdisciplinary researchers who study the chemical properties of naturally occurring compounds for potential industrial applications in pharmaceutical science, chemical engineering, and other biotechnological fields. They are networked globally and are working in the context of new and old technologies, and an array of biological organisms and the chemical milieu those organisms inhabit and constitute. The scientists’ research infrastructures thus, crucially, are also made up of these other biochemical and technological agents who are redefining human-nonhuman relations and, consequently, the production of health and well-being through interspecies care.

This ethnography explores Panama’s experiments and failures in the knowledge economy. I zoom in on laboratory life and the scientific experimentation by natural products researchers on interspecies relations to produce different forms of value. I then turn to the politics and performativity of state funding mechanisms for science and technology and the rolling out of their precarious forms. I explore the meanings of collaboration in the ethnographic practice of data collection vis-à-vis the changing meanings of international cooperation in scientific knowledge production. From there, I examine emerging interspecies forms of care and planetary concerns around a rapidly spreading zoonotic fungal diseases throughout Latin America. This dissertation engages with debates in multimodal ethnography and sound studies to examine highly tacit modes of scientific knowledge production. Drawing on science and technology studies, feminist epistemological methods, and the anthropological study of science, this study contributes to the analysis of precarity and expertise in Latin America, shifting the conversation of what it takes to make science in and from the region. Set athwart well-documented growth and science capacity in South East Asia, this research contributes to a rich body of literature focused on knowledge, biotechnologies, scientific capacity building, and responses to global health in different contexts. This study is significant for scholars of feminist science studies, environmental and economic anthropologists, science policymakers, natural product researchers, and politicians of science, technology, and innovation in Latin America and developing regions of the world.

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This item is under embargo until December 6, 2025.