This dissertation research examines techno-scientific knowledge and politics in Bolivia. It contends that a specific drug is constituted as an object, through concrete practices in the realms of politics and techno-science, will greatly influence the contemporary project of state formation in Bolivia. Intellectual Merit: The aim of this research is an ethnographic case study with the following objectives. First, examine how the interplay between techno-science, politics, and the physical properties of the salmuera shape the material and symbolic construction of lithium and the development of a lithium industry. Second, detail how the development of this industry in Bolivia intersects with the form and direction of the allegedly post-neoliberal, post-socialist, "plurinational" political project underway there. As such, the research examines the practices of engineers guiding a nascent lithium industry to understand the potential of those practices to intersect with controversies around the conceptual boundaries of the "plurinational" state. It examines how technological and scientific practices intersect with visions of what such a state is and should be. Broader Impacts: As the possibility of transitioning to a "lithium economy" becomes more likely, peripheral states such as Bolivia will find themselves crucially positioned geopolitically. This research promises broader significance in examining the role that new strategic resources, particularly those whose importance is tightly linked to global dynamics of an emerging ?green-technology? sector, play in the state formations of peripheral countries charged with the production of such resources. The research promises broader insights into emerging dynamics?particularly in Latin America?that are challenging traditional conceptions of development, modernization, the management and use of natural resources, and models of state formation, as well as the relation of science and technology to the actual practices of building alternatives to such traditional conceptions.
Synopsis: This dissertation research examines the making of lithium as an object of techno-scientific knowledge and politics in Bolivia. NSF funding has supported one year of fieldwork with both international and Bolivian engineers, regional community members, and local and national politicians in order to follow the ways that this industry is currently taking shape, under what constraints, and to what ends in Bolivia. With increasing international pressure to secure cheap sources of lithium for the production of "green technologies," i.e. battery operated vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, Bolivian lithium is increasingly being made into an object of politics and Bolivian state policy. The aim of this research is an ethnographic case study with the following objectives. First, examine how the interplay between techno-science, politics, and the physical properties of the salmuera (salt water containing lithium) shape the material and symbolic construction of lithium and the development of a lithium industry. Second, detail how development of this industry in Bolivia intersects with the form and direction of the allegedly post-neo-liberal, post-socialist, "pluri-national" political project underway there. This research examines the practices of engineers guiding a nascent lithium industry to understand their potential to intersect with controversies around the conceptual boundaries of the "plurinational" state. The larger dissertation project is still underway, including the analysis and write up of findings, as well as the writing of the dissertation. Given the current status of the project, the following report is to serve less as a "presentation of findings" than as a reporting of expected contributions of the full dissertation project. Intellectual Merit: This research integrates theoretical approaches in STS, political sociology, and anthropology by focusing on how the interplay between the symbolic (the meaning and significance of lithium and cognitive proclivities of engineers and scientists) and the material (the chemical and physical properties of lithium, the built environment related to production) bears upon the political project of building the "pluri-national" state. The research details how metallurgists, chemists, geologists, seek to understand the behavior of the salmuera (salt water brine containing lithium) and employ a diverse set of discipline specific tools and technologies to characterize the behavior of the salmuera. Yet engineers employing field experimental methods understand this behavior differently, and this difference is important to understanding why controlled laboratory experiments or representation of the components of the salmuera in the scientific literature are seldom useful in engineering processes based on empirical field data. This research also contributes to literature on the "modern state" and its relation to science and technology by bringing the strengths of ethnography to bear on the practices of engineering, their role in constructing techno-scientific objects, and consequently their role in state-building projects and the meaning populations give to those projects. Local populations in the Salar de Uyuni region show an intense desire to understand "lithium" in techno-scientific terms while at the same time preserving and confirming the location of that resource in their own cultural terms. Increasing state presence in the region brings infrastructural developments such as roads, electricity, water wells, etc that are desired by much of the local population, but which on the other hand alters local daily life and brings increasing control and administration of this geographic region. This research extends anthropological and sociological theory through a focus on the relationship between "science" and the "state," particularly in Latin America. Broader Impacts: A looming peak oil crisis demands developing alternative energy systems that utilize new sources of energy and new ways of storing it. Lithium is seen as an attractive solution for the latter problem—storage—given that its use in batteries facilitates personal mobility required by the built environments of many cities and the infrastructural developments of many nation-states across the globe. This research will have broader impacts by providing insight into the way that global and international pressures for alternative energy technology are linked to the often overlooked sources of the materials for its production. This research addresses the broader topics of global environmental degradation, technological developments, the construction of the built environment, and resource depletion, discovery, and management. This research provides a distinctive ethnographic vantage point from which to address ethical questions entailed in discourses of "green technology," "modernization" in Bolivia, and the ways in which the risks and benefits of technological developments are handled by technological demands for cheap, readily available raw materials. Bolivians have and continue to eschew a mere exportation policy for its natural resources, and the lithium industry is seen as something of a linchpin in the development of industries and policies that serve as an alternative to simple resource extraction and exportation.