Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at


The idea for this book came about in the course of discussions between the International Council for Science Policy Studies (ICSPS) and the United Nations University. In the industrialized countries, the number of institutions and research projects concerned with the study of the economic, political, and social issues raised by science and technology has been growing steadily over the last 30 years; under the labels "science studies," "science policy studies," "science, technology, and society," or "science of science," these issues have acquired academic recognition and university status, making it possible not only to improve understanding of these topics but also to provide relevant training. By contrast, very few developing countries have organized teaching or research on these subjects, although some have earned an excellent reputation, especially India and countries in Latin America. In recommending that the United Nations University should arrange regional seminars to provide training related to these issues, the ICSPS stressed that certain themes should be given top priority and that it was essential to make a state of the art as regards the problems and the literature in this field.

Jean-Jacques Salomon, then President of the ICSPS, was behind the publication of the book Science, Technology and Society: A Cross Disciplinary Perspective (ed. Ina Spiegel-Rösing and Derek de Solla Price, 1977), which was very well received and made a substantial contribution in all the industrialized countries, in both the West and the East, to the rise of disciplines concerned with studying science and technology policies. A similar exercise, this time examining the specific situation of developing countries, was therefore proposed by the ICSPS, taking into account the progress made in the field since the publication of the Spiegel-Rösing and de Solla Price book and also the special problems faced by the developing countries in the last decade. We are particularly grateful to Professor Heitor Gurgulino de Souza, who had only just been appointed Rector of the United Nations University in 1988, for his immediate enthusiastic reaction to the project and for his constant support ever since.

The project was rather more ambitious than the earlier one: for one thing, the well-established tradition of studies in this area had generated a vast corpus of books and academic theses that all the specialists in the industrialized countries have long since read and absorbed. In addition, whatever the differences among the industrialized countries - for instance, among the OECD member states or between countries run on free-market principles and those with managed economies - they had all invested massively in science and technology since the Second World War, they had all encouraged research and development (R&D) in similar areas, and hence they had a pool of shared experiences and debate. Naturally, neither the corpus of literature nor the experience was to be found on the same scale in the developing countries, especially given that their choices of development strategies had been extremely diverse, sometimes conflicting and rarely directed towards major R&D efforts. In many ways, it is still useful to refer to the book edited by Spiegel-Rösing and de Solla Price - which shows how much their pioneer work contributed, intellectually and academically - for a review of the contexts and fundamentals that continue to shape the study of the links between science, technology, and society. In putting together our own volume, we have taken for granted that the earlier survey is still an essential work of reference, and we have not felt it necessary to discuss again some of the topics (especially as regards the growth of institutions, professionalization, and standards) where its coverage is still valid and relevant to the present situation.

We went about the task of producing this volume in the same way as was true for the last. At an initial meeting of all the contributors in Paris in June 1990, we tried to draw up the overall structure of the book in the light of the proposed chapter outlines. The editors and the authors then sent each other many kilos of correspondence, and read several drafts, before a four-day meeting at the Saline Royale d'Arc et Senans in June 1991, where we tried to ensure that the various chapters constituted a coherent framework, which itself had inevitably been modified in the course of time. After another, three day meeting in Paris, this time just among editors, in January 1992 to review the revised contributions, the editors had to check all the chapters, make sure that they were neither too long nor too short, take some drastic decisions in order to eliminate as much repetition as possible, and prune the bibliographies to manageable proportions.

From the very outset, we were aware of the limits of our project. We knew that we could not deal with all the issues relating to science and technology as applied to development, and we never even thought that we could. For one thing, this field is vast and has no well-defined frontiers, and the problems are constantly changing over time and in response to changes in the economic, political, and social contexts, both nationally and internationally. There is no comprehensive economic and social theory that clearly explains the links between science, technology, and development hence part of the uncertainty of the quest. The best one can do is to stress the complexity of these links, to summarize existing knowledge, and to highlight some of the partial lessons that result from the many studies of these links. Secondly, the developing countries themselves are quite disparate, with their own characteristics, "styles," and constraints that make it impossible to establish satisfactory typologies. Under the same heading, they are different social organizations: there are differences in degrees of external exposure, in terms of trade, access to external funds, maturity of production, patterns of social conflict, etc. Lastly, and most importantly, authors were asked to examine the issues through small "windows" and from just a few angles, and hence could be accused of bias, since the view from Latin America, for example, could obviously not be the same as from South-East Asia or Africa. If we had tried to cover more topics, and to analyse them more thoroughly, with more case-studies and illustrations, we would have ended up like the builders of the proverbial Tower!

Hence this book- with its limitations and its deficiences that we are the first to acknowledge - seemed to us the best solution to the problem of how to treat the matters that we had set ourselves as the aim of the endeavour both concisely and in a useful way for teaching purposes. We have tried to present a survey of the state of the art; to emphasize some key issues, but not all; to make available studies that, along with the bibliography of relevant publications, will provide a sound basis for teaching and learning and an analytical framework for reflecting upon the role of science and technology in the development process. We expect our audience to be researchers, academics, research administrators, and decision makers concerned with all aspects of devising and implementing policies on science and technology. We should like to stress that if science and technology are essential components of any development strategy, the policies relating to them should be integral to all the other aspects of a thoughtful and consistent development policy, ranging from the economy to education, from agriculture and industry to the environment, from business to health, etc. Lastly, we have tried to highlight certain challenges for the future, and point to areas and directions where research and discussions might be pursued. It is clear that if there is to be a follow-up to this volume- and it is up to others to undertake the task - it should take the form of a series of sector studies, with case-studies on the history and the various disciplines in each region, and even perhaps the different experiences of each country within the region.

It has also to be said that events are moving ever faster, especially as a result of scientific and technological progress, so that we live in a world of constant and extremely rapid change. When we first thought of this book, the communist bloc was still in existence, even if there were cracks in the foundations. As time passed, and the communist economies collapsed and the Soviet Union imploded, we wondered (and others asked us) whether we should not have covered the industrialized countries of the Second World that had suddenly become "new developing countries" by analogy with the "newly industrialized countries." This would have meant making the book even larger; but in any case, there are very good reasons for making a clear distinction between the former communist economies and the developing countries. Besides, there is a risk that the tendency of the West to take a special interest in the problems of the ax-communist countries might mean that it would be even more neglectful of the problems of the "old" third world. To have contributed to this trend would have been contrary to the ideas underlying the conception and the production of this book.

If we had prepared the book 25 years ago, the title as well as the contents would have been more optimistic with regard to the potential positive influence of science and technology on development in both industrialized and third world countries. Now, the damage to the environment from industrial activity and the dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy mean that progress as such can no longer be taken for granted. We must be wary of the sidetracks, the adverse effects, and the costs of change resulting from scientific and technical advances. This quest is all the more uncertain today in relation to development. The title of this volume reflects not our doubts about what can be achieved through science and technology but our conviction that this is less than ever an inevitable process, all of whose promises can be kept.

Contents - Previous - Next