My project, as explained previously, is rather interdisciplinary. And seeing as one of the most valuable projects of the KINSC, in my opinion, is to promote inter- and multi-discipinary work, I thought I’d share a little about the kinds of anthropological questions I’m asking while I’m here working at LAFIECO. (Pardon the anthropology jargon to follow.)
The concept of biofuels began to be commonly articulated in the U.S. in the 1970s as a solution to such general global problems as energy insecurity, resource depletion, and global warming. In the same way that the rise of biofuels in the U.S. is a story about the country more than a story about biofuels, the life of biofuels in Brazil is historically situated in specific global relations of power and flows of cultural forms. The production of Brazilian biofuels draws on the practices and discourses of development; the ramifications of a neoliberal tension between autonomy and interdependence; and the performance of science, technology, and global capitalism. In this way, to study biofuels in Brazil is to study much more than the material fuels themselves. It is also to learn about our world today and how forms of technology and culture traverse it.
I believe, therefore, that there is a lot to learn by mapping out the discursive formation of biofuels. How are these biofuels discourses articulated in a manner simultaneously due to, in spite of, and generative of this specific historical context we live in right now? Rather than taking the existence of biofuels for granted, that is, I would like to problematize and denaturalize this existence. And the first step is to understand it not merely as an existence, but as a social life—one that is dynamic, political, sometimes contradictory, contingent, and generative of practices with the same characteristics.
Thus, while I am here working at the bench, observing what’s happening in the lab, listening to conversations, and interviewing scientists and students, I am thinking about the following questions: 1) what are the discourses around biofuels in Brazil and how did these come to be? 2) how are these connected to other global discourses? and 3) how do all of these discourses then inform actual scientific practices? By “discourse,” I mean not only the ways and places and times biofuels are talked about and the people who talk about them, but, most importantly, how these all work to produce a social fact of biofuels—one that has very material and practical ramifications.