Marilia Coutinho

I am broadly interested in the interface between science and society and inter, trans and cross-disciplinary phenomena in science. My previous research included different methodologies and conceptual approaches, such as scientometrics, oral history, ethnography, and policy analysis. Within the broad constructivist approach, specific conceptual frameworks such as the changing modes of science production, controversy and consensus-building, and actor-network perspectives have been fruitful and compatible. Recently, with the increasing problematization of science’s space in society, mapping and understanding interdisciplinarians, knowledge brokers and boundary spanners have become essential.

Below is a description of my current topics:

Chagas disease – dominant discourse and the perception of an “immigrant plague”

Having researched and published articles concerning all stages of research development about Chagas Disease and the successful control of its transmission on most Latin American countries, the recent trend observed in North American health organizations to re-frame it as a health threat brought into the USA by immigrants is my immediate concern.

The first manifestations of this trend were the post-Trump CDC website content on neglected diseases where sweeping claims were made about the estimated number of infected individuals in the USA, mechanisms of transmission, and actual risk. My research goals include identifying the structure of this argument and its precise temporal and institutional origin; a critical review of the recent primary literature on Chagas disease; and a thorough study about the recent institutional initiatives and their assumptions concerning Chagas disease both at the country level (comparing Brazil, the USA, and Mexico) and at the international level (World Health Organization). Hopefully, the political and ideological determinants of the “immigrant plague” perception of Chagas disease will be explained.

Changing representations about the Amazon forest – a network analysis

Between 2003, when I last investigated scientific production and public perception about the Amazon forest, and now, when the world was exposed to major threats to that ecosystem, much has changed in terms of “external” (to science) actors, their interaction among each other, with the several scientific sub-disciplines and the major world players in policy-making for the region.

For the first time since the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil, in 1985, Brazil has an authoritarian administration that espouses the same discourse as its parent political intelligentsia. Since publicly exposed to the word during the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden from June 5–16 in 1972, the Brazilian far-right has claimed a dichotomy between development and environmental conservation. This false dichotomy was thoroughly studied and rejected during the past decades. More or less consensual perceptions of sustainable development have dominated the sciences and the interplay between the sciences, social movements, and governments. Some of the first measures of president Bolsonaro’s government have been to undermine the social movements, to attack indigenous peoples, to encourage destructive agricultural activity in Amazonia, and to confront international players with the resurrected version of the past dictatorship’s extreme nationalism.

My research goals include mapping the new political landscape of policy building actors concerning Amazonia, how they emerged or developed along the past decades and to understand the relationship between “external” (to science) agents and the sciences, as well as the evolution of inter and transdisciplinarity during this period.

COVID-19 research and policy-making: applied research on patient-centered co-production of knowledge

COVID-19 or coronavirus disease 2019 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is characterized by a severe acute respiratory syndrome. From its identification in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 to its characterization as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, COVID-19 has infected more than 6,445,457 people, was the notified cause of death of 382,451 and impacted all countries’ and the global economy in more or less catastrophic magnitude depending on the country.

In three months, an epistemic ecosystem marked by extreme power and knowledge production/control asymmetry was formed. Considering the several scientific disciplines communities, government and inter-government health agencies, government at different levels, social movements, the wider population, and patients, those with the highest vested interest and least share of power are the patients. In a context of rapid contagion, health care system saturation and dismantling, and lack of consensus ranging from the molecular behavior of the virus, through the natural history of the disease, to epidemiological models, organized co-production of knowledge and policies is one of the only strategies with a less catastrophic outcome.

The objective of this project is to map this epistemic, cultural, and political landscape to identify the best options and opportunities for patient organization and entitlement as legitimate participants in the co-production of knowledge and policies.

Identity, body alienation and integration in the strength sports and training

Citizens of modern societies suffer, on a lesser or greater degree, of body alienation. Body alienation is here defined as a systematic and constant inhibition of the individual’s movement, environment exploration, and physical self-awareness. Such suppressive conditions dominate human life since the earliest childhood by socially sanctioned inhibition of movement in all its components: strength, agility, locomotion, and coordination. Body alienation is one aspect of personal disempowerment.

In extremely anomic situations, individuals are borderline symbolically non-existent, and, as Durkheim pointed out, may as well materialize this situation as suicide. Other courses of action may lead to either successfully paving the road to self-reintegration and development of healthy self-regulated behavior or the opposite: the individual may attempt to solve anomy by joining a highly structured and self-contained group, also known as sect or cult.

Certain body practices and sports, in general, those neither Olympic nor professional, existing at the margin of the sports institutional environment, may take cultist form by (a) adopting strict, non-written rules; (b) empowering those individuals who most effectively embrace their belonging and allegiance to the group; and (c) creating symbolic and cultural boundaries with the wider society. This way, they may smother the individual, stunting the development of their identity and self-regulated behavior. The objective of this project is (1) to map the sports landscape according to more integration-conducive or inhibitory spaces and (2) to explore the attitudes and behaviors of individuals engaged in strength training and sports concerning: (a) environmental and spatial representation (“the gym”); (b) motivation and self-regulated behavior; (c) body representation, acceptance, and rejection.

Learn more at:

Contact Marilia at: