April 28, 2021 -- The recently launched, peer-reviewed, open-access journal Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society is an innovative project in academic publishing spaces in Latin America. Tapuya is affiliated with the Asociación Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (ESOCITE) and the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S). Tapuya is published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group) and proudly sponsored by UCLA's Latin American Institute, the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (GSEIS), and the Luskin School of Public Affairs.
We recently conducted a brief interview with the editor-in-chief of Tapuya, Professor Leandro Rodríguez-Medina (Department of International Relations and Political Science, Universidad de las Américas Puebla), over email.
HAPI: Would you please describe what you saw as missing in the universe of journals dealing with science, technology, and society (STS) that led you to create Tapuya? What does it mean for the journal - a partnership between a Northern, English-language publisher, a Latin American senior editorial team, and an international editorial board - to be (in the words of your inaugural editorial) trans-Latin American?
LRM: Let me begin with a bit of history. In May 2016, I attended a week-long seminar in Brasília on postcolonial STS organized by Tiago Ribeiro and Luis Reyes Galindo, with funds from the British Academy. Sandra Harding, Emerita Professor of UCLA's GSEIS, was the keynote speaker at the seminar and spoke about postcolonial Latin American thought. During that meeting, I gave Sandra a copy of my book Centers and Peripheries in Knowledge Production. Although I didn't expect her to read it, it turned out that she did during her flight back to Los Angeles. So, after a few days, I received an email from her. She asked me whether I thought a Latin American STS journal in English would be possible. By that time, I had no idea if there was a niche for such a project. I started to do research about STS publications in the region and I found that there was no journal in English for the science and technology scholarly community. Many very good, well-established journals had been published in Spanish and Portuguese since the early twentieth century, but the gap was there and we thought it could be filled. Since the beginning, we did not want to compete with these journals, but to offer a new alternative within the regional field. A journal in English, published from a peripheral, non-English speaking area, would be problematic from the start, but we understood that this was unavoidable and a risk worth taking.
Let me now add something about partnership. Tapuya was born as a node within an extended, international network. First, we looked for support from two of the most important professional associations: the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and the Asociación Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de Ciencia y Tecnología (ESOCITE). Second, we partnered with UCLA's Latin American Institute, the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and the Luskin School of Public Affairs. This partnership has been crucial, since UCLA provided start-up funds that made Tapuya possible. Third, we thought that the project, at least in its first steps, should have a big publisher behind it, with the know-how and long tradition of publishing cutting-edge research. After much deliberation, we opted for Taylor & Francis' Routledge (T&F). Finally, we established boards to mirror the amazing diversity of this region and invited participation from colleagues from different countries in Latin America, but also from other countries. In fact, we balanced the composition of the boards: 50% from Latin America, 50% from abroad. Since then, we have tried to keep this balance, recognizing it as a foundational principle of Tapuya's life.
So, what does it mean to be transnational? Beyond time, language, career stages, and disciplinary differences, for me a transnational journal is about bridges, connections, and relationships. I don't have an essentialist, definitive answer to the question of transnationality. I'm inclined to choose a practical one: Tapuya is transnational insofar as it attempts to solve the problems of communication between scholarly cultures every day. We don't always succeed, but we keep on trying.
HAPI: Tell us about some of the factors that determined your choice of publishing model for Tapuya; that is, an English-language commercial publisher with open access for users financed by an author article processing charge (APC)?
LRM: Tapuya was born in a particular moment in publishing industry history. While subscription models were in crisis and the pressure for open access could be felt everywhere, publishers didn't have (and still don't have) a clear idea about which business model can actually work in the long term. I'm not sure APCs will be a durable way of financing research publications and the current debates about Plan S and similar initiatives in the US and in Latin America (such as CLACSO's FOLEC) are indicative of a deep concern with current publication practices. For us in Tapuya, the journal had to be open access (do you know that the region with relatively highest proportion of open access journals is Latin America?) and scholars without funding (whether from Latin America, the Global South or even Northern institutions) had to be able to publish their research. Emerging from this commitment was a collaborative structure to support our experiment: expertise and infrastructure from a global publisher, financial resources from a world-class Northern university and private donors, and the political and epistemic viewpoints of a group of Latin American and Northern colleagues. This ability to occupy that interstitial space between institutions and scholars such as those already mentioned and bring to the fore a position and a voice of its own from Latin America is, for me, Tapuya's main strength.
Nevertheless, in 2023 Tapuya and T&F will have to renegotiate the contract and the situation will be different, not only because of COVID-19 and its consequences for higher education and global research, but also for the business model and best practices of an ever-changing industry. Moreover, in a couple of years the open access/open science movement will likely be even stronger and debates about it will continue. In this context, Tapuya will remain faithful to the principle that gave rise to it: it doesn't matter if it has funding or not, good research will always be published.
HAPI: You've chosen to publish articles exclusively in English in Tapuya. What were some of the most compelling issues for you in this decision?
LRM: Let me begin by saying that so far we have published articles exclusively in English. In my view, Tapuya does not need to have a commitment to English as a lingua franca. Instead, Tapuya needs to commit to inter- or trans-cultural communication. It is because of this commitment that Tapuya has relied on English. This means three interrelated things: First, I can see Tapuya publishing articles in Portuguese and Spanish in the future. Or, even more optimistically, I can see this journal becoming a truly multilingual journal in the years ahead. Second, we are starting to introduce some publications in other languages, such as multi-lingual book reviews and interviews. This is just a small first step, but one that is important symbolically. Third, in terms of language, I'm overoptimistic about the capacity of automated translations based on AI. If you visit our T&F website and access the HTML version of any article, you'll find an interesting -and probably underused- tool. Just select any paragraph of the article and three options will emerge immediately: listen, dictionary and translate. If you click "translate" you'll find several language options, from Arabic to Mandarin Chinese to, of course, Portuguese and Spanish. We must thank T&F for this option, which, of course, cannot provide a professional, certified translation, but open up possibilities for scholars in other parts of the world to partially overcome the language barrier.
Will Tapuya be a multilingual journal in the future? I do hope so. When? When the infrastructure of the journal allows authors to submit, reviewers to review, and readers to read in their native languages. It may sound almost utopic, but I don't think it will take as much as we used to think.
HAPI: Tapuya -despite the subtitle Latin American Science, Technology and Societ y- includes scholarship on regions outside of Latin America, including Asia and Africa, for example. What's behind the decision to expand the journal's geographic focus beyond the region's physical boundaries?
LRM: Tapuya was never about publishing exclusively about Latin America or Latin American scholarship. In this regard, my understanding of a Latin American journal is that it has to provide space for all the debates (theories, methodologies, ontologies) that can be relevant for local academics, decision makers, and even wider audiences. Why can't Latin American researchers learn from African experiences on the relationship between technology and gender? So, let's publish a cluster on that. Why can't Latin American scholars learn from the genealogy of STS in East Asia? So, let's publish an article on it. If we want to create bridges between regions, we must transcend a narrow understanding of a regional journal. We're publishing global scholarship from Latin America. Tapuya's articles and clusters are as relevant for German or Japanese colleagues as East Asian Science, Technology and Society's articles are for Colombian or Mexican researchers. When we invited colleagues from Latin America to reply to Lin and Law's papers in EASTS, we were trying to create connection that, so far, had not materialized in publications between these two regions.
Tapuya does not seek to be a journal that is exclusively oriented to the regional community of STS scholars. I think that, for this, the region already has excellent journals that deserve all the recognition from us -and from our colleagues worldwide. Furthermore, to communicate exclusively at the regional level, a journal in English would not have been necessary. We have bet on the effort of communicating in a language that is not, for the vast majority of Latin Americans, their mother tongue, in order to use it as a bridge with other communities. Of course, language is not the only barrier. We must engage in more projects in which scholars from different regions, especially from the Global South, participate actively. For the South-South dialogues to be more than a hope, we must commit ourselves to specific actions and materializations (e.g., clusters) that give rise to and allow consolidation of these encounters.
HAPI: What do you see as some of the pressing issues in STS studies that you hope to include in upcoming issues of Tapuya?
LRM: I have always tried not to answer questions like this. When you are in a position like mine, as editor-in-chief of a journal, you can make the following wrong assumption: "Since I receive many articles on topic x, then topic x is important." I think this underestimates the factors, which have been extensively studied, that lead to the publication of certain topics, in certain journals, by certain academics from certain institutions. One can always see a plurality of themes in Tapuya. Sometimes clusters will serve to view them in a more interconnected and relational way. On other occasions, an article on a question may be, let's say, representative of broad lines of research that have been developed for decades in some countries or institutions. So, to be honest, my first answer to the question is "I don't know."
Now, I will speak as a researcher. More specifically, an Argentine sociologist, based in Mexico, in his 40s, working from a private university, outside the country's capital. The topics that, from my point of view, are gaining weight and that I would like to see in Tapuya in the coming years are:
1- The gender issue in the Global South, both at the epistemological level and at the level of practices that can lead to fairer articulations. The role of men, the necessary changes in institutions (for example, and in particular, in the administration of justice and the security forces), and the way of thinking about issues such as health, education, and post-patriarchal well-being seem fundamental to me.
2- Post-pandemic COVID-19 social changes and the way in which they force transformations in our lifestyles, the production/circulation of knowledge, and the organization of economic and material production will be, from my perspective, subjects of analysis in the coming years. Within this theme, and due to personal interests, the acceleration of agency distribution and the construction of decentralized epistemic subjects emerge as matters of utmost urgency and relevance.
3- Studies on vulnerabilities, the ways in which they arise and are institutionalized, the mechanisms with which they are naturalized, and the procedures and resistances with which they can be put into debate seem necessary to me and, in particular, a journal like Tapuya would need more reflection on it. Vulnerabilities are the result of imbalances, inequities, injustices, and asymmetries that, very often, we take for granted and assume that there is not much to do. However, any journal in STS would always have to have a long-term commitment to actions that mitigate or simply overcome these imbalances.
HAPI: Looking back over the first three years in this publishing endeavor, are there any unexpected challenges or opportunities you've experienced along the way?
LRM: Everyday there's an unexpected challenge in Tapuya. It can be related to infrastructure issues (why don't we publish abstracts in three languages?), to submission procedures (why don't some scholars push the "confirmation" button at the end of the submission process?), to writing styles (should we set guidelines for a gender-neutral article?), to language (how can we improve our copy-editing support for non-English-speaking authors?), or to management issues (can we provide proper working conditions for the next editor-in-chief?). These challenges can be raised by someone at T&F, our managing editor, our book review coordinator, our senior advisor, or any member of the International Advisory Board. It can be solved with an email or require several weeks of deliberation or even new infrastructure. I had not understood what an ongoing project meant until Tapuya was launched. The journal is, let's say, permanently overwhelmed by its own dynamics, by the multiple interests that it tries to articulate and by the limitations that every publishing project must face at this time in history. Every Monday, when the week starts, we think there will be no problem. Every Monday, when we have our managing meeting, we realize that we have a new problem.
Yet, Tapuya is the most exciting project I have ever been involved with. To such an extent that my departure as editor-in-chief, scheduled for 2022, has become an occasion to rethink the journal once again, both in its objectives and in the procedures, short and long term, with which we meet those goals. I hope that the next editor-in-chief will find a journal that is organized, well structured, efficient, and full of life. Unfortunately, for them, it will always also be a conflictive, changing, tensional, and unstable endeavor. However, who had said that founding a journal was easy?