On the creation of scientific knowledge

Image: G. Cortez


Scientific knowledge amalgamated with the imperial enterprise of the West, which colonizes Brazil, distances Brazilian women from other possible agendas

Once westernized well educated, we introject the modern (Euro-American) way of being and we are capable of imagining, describing, knowing, researching, explaining and understanding a universe inhabited by entities that we classify saying are minerals, vegetables, animals, practices, theories , notions, facts, fictions, uses, links, ideas, dreams, matter, space, time, objects and subjects. But, especially since the second half of the XNUMXth century, studies, discussions, analyzes and problematizations of this classification and the modern world it generates have given rise to changes in the disciplines of history, sociology, anthropology and philosophy of science and technology, and even in the so-called natural sciences themselves. These changes, academically configured in the field of Science Studies, were seen in Brazil at the end of the XNUMXth century as part of the so-called “CTS Studies”, an expression that can be read as Studies of Sciences-Technologies-Societies.

The CTS Studies propose that all those entities in the universe classified above, including the classification itself, are network effects of “provisional juxtapositions of heterogeneous elements”. This proposition has the philosophical ease and ontological radicalism of Jorge Luis Borges when he points out that “in the remote pages of a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Empório Celestial de Conhecimentos Benévolos it states that animals are divided into (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed , (c) trained, (d) piglets, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous, (g) free-ranging dogs, (h) included in this classification, (i) who move like crazy, (j) innumerable (k) drawn with a very fine camel hair brush, (l) etcetera, (m) that the vase has just broken, (n) that from afar look like flies” and concludes that, “notoriously, there is no classification of the universe that is not arbitrary and conjectural. The reason is very simple: we don't know what the universe is.” (Borges, 1952/2007)

Michel Foucault reproduced Borges' boldness in the Preface to his famous and highly influential Words and things: an archeology of the human sciences. (Foucault, 1966/2000) It is precisely from this ontological radicality that CTS Studies and Paulo Freire can be provisionally juxtaposed as heterogeneous elements to bring unexpected and crucial contributions to the creation of scientific knowledge in Brazil. This is the purpose of this brief text.

A first contribution of CTS Studies is to question the great divide in the edifice of modern Euro-American knowledge: the Kantian bifurcation / separation[I] between scientific knowledge about Nature (the world of things-in-themselves) and those about Society (the world of humans-among-themselves). As is known, the CTS Studies showed that this bifurcation is not from the beginning in the creation process (observation, research, experimentation) of a scientific knowledge, but it is a kind of epistemological finish of the ontological process that creates this knowledge, that is, the always provisional stabilization of the network that configures this knowledge as an entity, be it an object, fact, theory or subject.[ii]

Especially, scientific objects and facts are no longer seen as pure entities, which have always existed in Nature, created by demiurgic figures such as Galileo, Newton, Lavoisier, Pasteur, inhabitants of a world where “science” is simplistically seen as universal, neutral and objective – a currently untenable vision that the American sociologist Robert K. Merton idealized in the middle of the XNUMXth century. With the ontological separation between Nature (the incorruptible world of things-in-themselves) and Society (the corruptible world of men-among-themselves) undone, Brazilians can see the “scientific knowledge” that arrives here as the result of processes in which not demiurgic figures work, but flesh and blood scientists.

And that results in something especially important for the periphery of the West in which the Brazils find ourselves: constructed by human actors, as proposed by the CTS Studies, scientific knowledge brings with it, often surreptitiously, interests, values ​​and dominant affections in their origins. That is, they arrive here amalgamated with the imperial enterprise of the West (the west and the rest) that colonizes Brazil and removes possible other agendas from Brazilian women.

Of course, this does not imply the immediate or complete rejection of all knowledge that comes to us from the outside, but it makes legitimate, dignified and not “irrational”, this amazing new freedom of choice between accepting, resisting or rejecting not only the facts, especially scientific facts, but also the agendas that come from there or are produced here by colonizing agents. This “astonishment” expands the spaces for the creation of knowledge in the Brazils, including scientific knowledge.

Another contribution of the CTS Studies is that they have highlighted the plurality, multiplicity and limits of the constitutive references of the validity of all knowledge. They tell us that the occasions and initiatives conducive to the creation of knowledge are plural, multiple and situated. Contrary to what the handbooks and the dominant catechisms, the creations of knowledge, even those activities formalized as “R&D”, do not follow the previously planned structures, such as the construction of avenues in a city, but happen and proliferate more in rhizomes, taking advantage of recesses and crevices in the territory , how the slums grow. In a few decades, CTS Studies translated a few centuries of an esoteric and transcendent Science of a centered reality into a plurality of exoteric, immanent and contingent sciences of a “multiple world”[iii] of “situated knowledge”,[iv] dignifying countless new possibilities for Brazilian knowledge.

The CTS Studies free spaces for knowledge creation in the Brazils to pluralize, multiply and place themselves within Brazilian diversity, providing recognition of an immense and untamed source of knowledge and ways of life. CTS Studies, juxtaposed with Paulo Freire, our greatest educator, can equip Brazilian women to incorporate with dignity this source of energy and knowledge that until now has been systematically disqualified in Euro-American classifications.

The white colonizer enshrines his own unidirectionalities in the construction of knowledge, such as prioritizing research agendas aimed at labor-saving knowledge (labor saving) that best fit conventional Euro-American interests, values ​​and affections and that remove, in this example, the local contingencies of lack or abundance of jobs that Brazilian women can occupy.

In addition to crossing the great nature x society divide and installing plurality and multiplicity, and also situating knowledge, STS Studies see a world in process (flow, becoming) that the creation of knowledge must go through, glued to materiality. Due to its very origin linked to the observation of scientific facts while they are made and not ready, due to the requirement of, in this observation, walking along with materiality according to the myopic gaze of an ant[v], CTS Studies problematize the naturalization of finished products that are seen as “black boxes” that can be abandoned (by paradigm shifts), opened (by defects or accidents) or opened (by research or reverse engineering). This privileging of processes can contribute to Brazilian agendas, as opposed to the “diffusion model” that presents Euro-American entities as ready-made and natural as a result of the modern notion of progress, also naturalized.

Brazilian agendas can be of multiple calibers, ranging from a small project by a university department or a company to large-scale public policies. Paulo Freire tells us to “do our own reading of the world” taking into account that “knowledge is collective” and that we must “think from the ground where our feet step” – nothing could intertwine more perfectly with CTS Studies. Paulo Freire has always fought hard against that “banking education” that instills in us collectives of things and people, often brutally uniformed and equated to constitute abstract units (humanity, the generic worker, the generic peasant, the generic capitalist) that configure the epistemic imposition of the opening classification of this text.

Whatever humans do, they always do with things.[vi] Unlike what is ready, a finished product isolated as an “object”, a “thing that is there” that, according to the diffusion model, spreads and impacts society, processes are sequences of decisions and actions that always involve collectives of humans and things. CTS Studies and Paulo Freire are juxtaposed in alliance by not separating people from their worlds, their things, refusing to think them by allocating them in abstract categorical units. The CTS and Paulo Freire Studies always start from a much more heterogeneous picture of collectives of people and things, each collective with the things that make it up, the materialities of food, schools, hospitals, transport, communications, work, sciences, beliefs, churches, arts, entertainment, and even the dreams that circulate in it. For both, people are also multiple and properly constituted by the materials that surround them.

I conclude with the boldness of imagining examples of proposed Brazilian agendas thinking about processes and not finished products based on supposed developments of case studies:

A cts/freirian agenda for food security – School meals could be prepared in decentralized processes by the communities of each school with involvement of mothers and fathers, relatives and volunteers from local ingredients as opposed to buying large quantities of finished products supplied by big companies". (imagined unfolding from (Dias, 2016))

A cts/freirian agenda to provide electricity for all – Novas smart grids could implement decentralized purchase and sale processes in which each energy consumer could potentially also be an energy supplier (wind, solar, alcohol, etc.), as opposed to the finished product “energy” provided by gigantic centralized concessionaires (a development imagined from by (Feitosa, 2021)).

*Ivan da Costa Marques He is a professor at the Graduate Program in the History of Sciences and Techniques and Epistemology (HCTE) at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Brazil and market opening (Counterpoint).

Extended version of article published in CTS em Foco.



BORGES, JL The analytical language of John Wilkins. In: BORGES, JL (Ed.). Other Inquisitions. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras 1952/2007.

DA COSTA MARQUES, I. CTS studies, Paulo Freire and new “Brazilian agendas”. CTS in focus (ESOCITE.BR bulletin), v. 2, no. 1, p. 38-43, Jan – Mar 2022 2022. ISSN 2675-9764.

DIAS, LR In the “boca do povo”: multimixture and its heterogeneous networks. 2016. 216 (PhD). Graduate Program in History of Sciences and Techniques and Epistemology Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro.

DONE, PHF The enlightened citizen: controversies about intelligences and digital transformations in Rio de Janeiro's electricity networks. 2021. 227 (PhD). Graduate Program in Informatics / COPPE, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro.

FOUCAULT, M. Words and things – an archeology of the human sciences. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1966/2000.

HARAWAY, DJ The Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In: SILVA, TTD (Ed.). Cyborg anthropology: the vertigo of the posthuman. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica Editora, 2000. p.37-129. ISBN 8586583820.

LATOUR, b. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Across Society. São Paulo: UNESP, 1987/1997. 439 ISBN 857139265X.

______. A collective of humans and non-humans – In the Labyrinth of Daedalus. In: LATOUR, B. (Ed.). Pandora's Hope – Essays on the reality of scientific studies. Bauru, SP: EDUSC, 1999/2001. chap. 6, p.201-246. ISBN 85-7460-062-8.

SPRING. The body multiple: ontology in medical practice. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. xii, 196 p. ISBN 0822329026 (cloth alk. paper)

0822329174 (pbk.alk.paper). Available in: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy037/2002006932.html.



[I] On the treatment of this Kantian separation in CTS Studies, see the afterword written by Bruno Latour for the translation of the book Science in Action for spanish.

[ii] See (Latour, 1987/1997)

[iii] See, for example, (Mol, 2002)

[iv] See (Haraway, 2000)

[v] Reference to the acronym of actor-network theory, ANT (ant).

[vi] See (Latour, 1999/2001)

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