Lecture Series

18 November 2022


Why Did Cybernetics Disappear in Latin America?
An Incomplete Timeline


media lab

There is a fundamental difference between using technology and producing technology, but their uses are also technical. Technology is historically represented as self-determination through the materialization of the changes and advances of each era. The question about the disappearance of Cybernetics in Latin America has a double meaning:

For most historians, Latin America is far from the history of innovation in the production of new technological media. However, for researchers who do highlight these contributions, for them, the emblematic cases are related to the organic structure of the social projects that Latin American nations began together with the First World War, and that mostly ended in the 1970s. In other words, after decades of contempt or lack of interest on the part of researchers in the history of technology for the technological and scientific development achieved by Latin America thanks to the programs of the developmentalist state, recent assessments of these advances tend to conclude that these processes ended a long time ago. Therefore, in the first place, to understand them, it is necessary to reconstruct experiences from the perspective of systems theory.

In the second instance, the question is a provocation for those who continued to try to develop cybernetics in Latin America after the developmentalist state models and who with this provocation feel the need to raise their voices and highlight the achievements they have achieved in recent decades. despite an even more adverse context than that of its predecessors.

To carry out this research, I proposed a specialized methodology; It consists of the retrospective historiographical analysis of the systems of social representation and an adaptation of the sociology of the fields of symbolic production.

First, this methodology makes it possible to establish paths of vernacular and syncretic epistemological formulations (latitudes and chronologies) and then to establish a second line; how these systems of meaning or subfields of restricted symbolic production are capable of articulating conceptual and material mechanisms that regulate relations of perception, establishing a second path of devices or interfaces. This second trajectory is that of strategic interaction designs, then this analysis establishes the timelines of the third trajectory of exceptional situations in which an epistemology that articulates a device can generate a paradigm shift at the scale of communication systems, social representation, or also called systems of facts.

These three processes, at the same time, are determined by global trajectories, which in very exceptional situations, they are also capable of influencing. All these four structures of retrospective review of "possible futures" at the same time emphasize interest in models of participation, organization, learning and reforms.

This research in progress exposes the still little-known participation of Latin America in the formulation of first-order cybernetics in the 1940s and in its second-order cybernetics milestones experienced since the 1970s. It also opens questions about the possibilities of a necessary reformulation for third-order cybernetics.

David Maulén de los Reyes teaches history of technology at the Metropolitan Technological University (UTEM). He has written about the relationships between art, science, and technology in Chile and Latin America within the processes of social change, developing a specific methodology of the sociology of symbolic production for the retrospective study of project disciplines such as design, architecture, urban planning, and engineering. He has been the curator of the third Biennial of the National Museum of Fine Arts MNBA “Situation of Chilean Contemporary Art;” the project for the new Gabriela Mistral cultural center, visualization of information "Genealogical Trajectories of Buildings for the 3rd United Nations Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD III,” and the IFA project “Everyone is a Bauhaus. Past and future of a concept,” at ZKM. He has contributed to the platform “Is Modernity Our Antiquity?” XII Documenta in Kassel. He was co-editor of the special issue on Cybernetics in Latin America published by Springer's AI & Society Journal, research that he has continued developing.

About Lecture Series

The Lecture Series is an annual event revolved around a theme curated and presented by Media Lab, inviting scholars and artists from different fields to engage in a dialogue between art, technology, and philosophy to explore critical issues in media studies.