DS0805 -

Comparative analysis around the mechanical knowledge development of Amerindian societies from Atacama and Chaco boréal. 1940 - current time – mecaniques-amerindiennes

Submission summary

The aim of this project is to describe and compare the construction of mechanical knowledge in indigenous societies of the Atacama Plateau and the Gran Chaco. We will approach the subject making four preliminary assumptions: (1) in these strongly asymmetrical social contexts, the mechanics knowledge is a place of power, of marking differences (of gender, ethnical, of nation, of dressing, etc.), and of creating social subjects. In this sense, one must retrace the evolution and local tensions of formal devices of mechanical instruction (military service, religious missions, technical education), that are also devices of control and social discipline of heterogenous and underling populations. In this context, mechanics is an asymmetrical field under tension, with legitimate and illegitimate forms, counterculture and competing circuits of mechanics. (2) In the peripheries of large technological systems (mines, sugar plantations), the process of indigenous appropriation of machines produces a singular field of heterogenous technical practices, discourses about machines, ways of naming and classifying them, identification of dangers and recalling accidents, etc. All this, allows for an anthropology or ethnography of mechanics. (3) Mechanical knowledge and its tensions lead to a production of specific series of tools, technical procedures and gesture, for which it possible to develop an archaeology, and that can be studied through models and formalization.

This knowledge is inserted more largely into a local phenomenology of mechanics – the different ways to think and rationalize the machines, to classify and name them, to identify the danger and have a memory of the accidents, to assign to the machines some symbolism, estheticism or animality – this knowledge takes also part of a local sociology of mechanics – actors, divisions, associated paths that emerge – which we have to take into account; It is possible to model those material environment – tools, garbage and wrecks, makeshift workshop, working clothes, etc. ; this material constitutes the archive of those tensions.

This research project calls up resources in ethnology, history and history of technology and is based on a explorative, qualitative and comparative method. We study two marginal and weakly populated areas which were lately colonized (1880-1930) by the mechanized extraction front (mines in the Andes, sugar and wood in the Chaco). The comparison between the two moreover totally different areas will permit us to understand how, with different social, technical and historical circumstances, a same technological and mechanical “stratum” is disseminated, absorbed and locally appropriated.

The research is organized in three axis : (1) Ethnography of the mechanical fact in the Atacama and the Chaco will investigate the different elements of the local mechanics as well as the individual paths and learning forms; (2) mechanical knowledge, power and colonial spaces will study the formal vectors of mechanics learning (missions, technological schools, etc.) and the archives by interpreting them in the general context of colonization of these territories; (3) edge of mechanics, materialities, technology will analyze and model technological pattern by studying tools, workshops, wrecks in order to understand the tensions, the limitations and contradictions of these local mechanics.

Three results are expected : (i) to collect and describe this knowledge through different corpora – ethnographic, documentary, tools and technological procedures – in digitized, indexed forms that permit a collective exploitation ; (ii) to enhance our knowledge of that problem by publishing three articles, a collective book and by preparing a monographic manuscript and (iii) to dynamize the academic and scientific collaboration between the different partners in order to develop a work in progress about history and anthropology of technology in colonial/asymmetric contexts..

Project coordinator

Monsieur Nicolas Richard (Centre de recherche et documentation sur les Amériques)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CREDA Centre de recherche et documentation sur les Amériques

Help of the ANR 236,443 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2016 - 48 Months

Useful links

Explorez notre base de projets financés



ANR makes available its datasets on funded projects, click here to find more.

Sign up for the latest news:
Subscribe to our newsletter