The energetic body: Machines, organisms, and social thermodynamics in colombia’s path to modernity

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In the early twentieth century in Colombia, as in other parts of Latin America, various discourses ranging from cosmological theories to social and moral discussions about the body, race, and work were approached from a perspective that viewed individual and social functioning as a process of energy transformation. In 1910, the year Colombians celebrated the centenary of independence, journalist Simon Chaux noted that the development of the universe and the organization of all its phenomena was based on the “principle of the conservation of energy, which stresses that no force is created or destroyed in the infinite processes of nature or the action of man-made machines, but rather it is transformed into new manifestations, equivalent to those present before.” 2 That same principle of equivalence served to give a new productive dimension to natural resources and their role in the discourses of identity and national progress. As lawyer Juan Quintero mentioned in 1911, the beautiful plunge of Tequendama (a natural waterfall 140 meters high located 30 kilometers southwest of Bogota), besides its poetical meanings, also represented a great source of mechanical energy without precedents in the Andean geography and a huge potential of material progress for the nation: “The average energy of Tequendama is equivalent to 63,000 horsepower, which represents 630,000 working men … who are not paid a salary.” 3.

Translated title of the contributionEl cuerpo energético. Máquinas, Organismos y Termodinámica Social en el Camino Colombiano hacia la Modernidad
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge History of Latin American Culture
EditorsCarlos Salomon
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781317449300
ISBN (Print)978-1138902565
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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