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IBS Speaker Series: Colette Perold
August 28 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Title: Assembling the Continental Computer: Free-Trade, the Cold War, and the Origins of South American Digital Media Markets
Abstract: This talk analyzes the creation of early digital media markets in South America through the study of the International Business Machines (IBM)’s operations in Brazil. Based in the U.S. but operating across South America since the 1920s, IBM most aggressively consolidated its continental reach during its transition to modern computer production in the 1960s. Capitalizing on political debates over how to regionally integrate South American markets, IBM built the framework for the first South American free-trade agreement, whose first iteration covered IBM products only. Against the explicit wishes of Latin American economists and technicians who sought regional integration to decrease Latin American economic reliance on the United States rather than increase it, IBM used the agreement to solidify its market dominance in the region. It did so by employing a “distributed manufacturing” system it first implemented in postwar Europe, using the South American free-trade agreement to vertically integrate its own production of its earliest transistorized, general-purpose computers. With one of IBM’s most significant Latin
American operational hubs in Brazil, IBM used this continental reach to regain its market control in Brazil at precisely the time when its continued operations were most put at risk by competitor firms and nationalist political movements. Coopting the language of Latin American economic autonomy and aiding U.S. Cold-War foreign policy priorities, IBM crafted the South American regional integration project in its own image, foreclosing opportunities for domestic digital media companies to enter digital technology markets for at least two decades more.
Bio: Colette Perold is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research focuses on the relationship between media technologies, labor movements, and U.S. foreign policy, specifically the ways in which multinational IT companies shape U.S. foreign policy priorities in Latin America. She currently holds an NEH Digital Humanities Grant for the development of media supply chain mapping software and curricula, and recently held the 2022-2023 Brooke Hindle Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Society for the History of Technology. Perold earned her PhD from the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. Prior to her PhD she worked as a labor organizer and as an editor for the NACLA Report on the Americas, a quarterly journal on Latin American politics and social movements.