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Nathaniel Freiburger wins Provost Dissertation Year Fellowship

Cultures of Engineering and the Engineering of Politics: The
Making of Lithium as an Object of Techno-Scientific Knowledge and Politics in Bolivia


This dissertation research examines the making of lithium as an object of techno-scientific knowledge and politics in Bolivia. It contends that how lithium 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. 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 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.