Reaching for the Stars? Astronomy and Growth in Chile

Barandiaran, Javiera


Article written by 2009 DPDF Revitalizing Development Studies Fellow Javiera Barandiaran, featured in Minerva:

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.