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Cultures and coexistence of rationalities

The radical change accomplished by modern science generates a major debate and many questions. For instance, what is it in the rationality of this science - European in origin and destined, as Needham says, to become "ecumenical" - that distinguishes it from other types of knowledge and culture? Or again, why did this version of science make its rapid rise in western Europe at the time of Galileo? The paradox involved in these questions is that much is said about the universality of modern science, while stressing the peculiar nature of its Western origins. The debate is all the more difficult in that it leads one to ask why, at a given moment in their histories, one civilization was so far ahead of others, for example the Chinese or the Muslim cultures, which turned in on themselves and missed the boat of "progress"?

Needham's life's work shows us that certain societies, certain cultures, at various periods of history, reveal themselves as far more efficient than others in the mastery of scientific knowledge and the exploitation of technical progress. But it is not only the past that tells us this. At this very moment, even as there is talk of a new stage in the history of the Industrial Revolution, it is clear that considerable disparities exist in the ability of different societies to take advantage of the possibilities opening up and, a fortiori, in their capacity to contribute to the conception, development, and production of the "new technologies." Needham's conclusion has the merit to exclude from the very outset any "physical-anthropological" or "racial-spiritual" factor involved in what may explain the advance or the lateness of societies in relation to each other: "The answer to such questions lies, I now believe, primarily in the social, intellectual and economic structures of the different civilizations" [31, pp. 127-128]. Moreover, it rightly suggests that catching up - as much as fading away and decline - is possible as a function of the efforts made to adjust and modernize these structures.

Scientific and other knowledge

Indeed, there is a common postulate subsumed in the approach of modern "hard" sciences: the constancy of the laws of the universe. This postulate went almost unchanged from Lucretius, who spoke of the laws of nature as contracts ( foedera), to Einstein, who proclaimed that "God is subtle, but does not have a malicious nature." Or as Norbert Wiener wrote: "Nature plays fair and if, after climbing one range of mountains, the physicist sees another on the horizon before him, it has not been deliberately put there to frustrate the effort he has already made. The devil whom the scientists are fighting is the devil of confusion, not of wilful malice" [60]. The postulate of this rationality is that the universe functions according to commands that are like decrees. In fact these would seem to be the decrees of a supra-rational legislator, decrees that the founders of modern science - Galileo, Descartes, Kepler, Newton - thought to be "revealed" to the human spirit.

This postulate is what led Needham to highlight the essential difference between the conception of the order of the world in traditional China and that in Europe of the Renaissance. In the latter, the laws of nature are valid for the earth and heaven according to "orders" given by a rational legislator; in the former, there is no superior authority instituting a system of causal relations but an organic cooperation defining a cosmic reality: the law has no clear representation outside human affairs so that the intelligibility of the world is never guaranteed. Needham cited the example of medieval Europe, struggling against sorcery, where trials were held in which charges were brought against roosters that laid eggs. These roosters were condemned to be burned alive because they had betrayed the divine order. Needham used every opportunity to show that Taoist China would never have dreamed of conducting similar trials. Such phenomena were considered to be "rebukes of heaven," "celestial misfortunes," and not a perversion of the order of the world guaranteed by God.

Western science was finally developed and imposed itself by doing without the guarantee of a supreme legislator; nevertheless, statistical regularities and their mathematical expressions guarantee somewhat the hypothesis of an "honoured contract," of an order removed from the whims and arbitrary moods of either a magical or a malicious intervention: it is by definition impossible to hold the rational functioning of natural phenomena in default (which does not mean that there is neither deep complexity nor even disorder and chaos in the functioning of some of these phenomena, as shown by the most recent developments in theoretical physics). Hence the remark by Needham, which marvellously locates the boundary between the cultures ready to adopt a Western rationality and those that are closed to it: "Perhaps the kind of spirit which could make of an egg-laying rooster a being to be persecuted by the law was necessary in a culture so that this same culture would later be capable of producing a Kepler?" [31].

Until the seventeenth or eighteenth century, China and the West shared the same capital of knowledge, and China was in many aspects more advanced technologically. The compass, gunpowder, and printing were all transfers of technology from China to the West, and the end of the seventeenth century marked, thanks to the Jesuits' "technical assistance," reciprocal exchanges between the two civilizations in the common area of mathematics. "The Europeans at my court have presided over mathematics for a long time already. During the civil wars they rendered an essential service to me with the cannon which they have cast," states the Edict of Tolerance of K'ang-hsi in 1692. And the Chinese "model" defined a good part of European literature during the entire eighteenth century. But it was from the seventeenth century onwards that the parting of the ways occurred, with rivers that no longer flowed into the same ocean up until the nineteenth. Economic and social structures in Europe prepared the way for the scientific and technical revolution, while in China the "celestial bureaucracy" refused entrepreneurship, innovation, and change. Along with economic and social structures, there came some would say that they are dependent on them - moral attitudes and new values.

Modern science is not content merely to substitute one model of knowledge for another (mathematics and experimentation for perception by the senses), but sets up a conception of the world in which the capacity for action is directly linked to speculative knowledge. It is from this angle that the rationality of Western science is the opposite of that of traditional science, whose influence is still present in most developing countries, especially in Asia. For instance, it has been shown why the world view found in traditional India could not have produced natural sciences in the sense understood in the West since Galileo [65]. The principle underpinning ayurvedic science in fact is that of law, and deals with rites and legends; its action depends on doing things in the ways stipulated in the traditional texts and not at all on research into causes that then leads to changes in the way things are done and to technical progress. Scholarly medical treatments in Asia seem to be outside history, ignoring the idea of change over time; they have links with the divine world and divination that can be traced back to the earliest sacred texts, providing complete responses from the outset. The principle behind the application of these treatments cannot be extended to have universal applicability, whereas for Western science, the constant search for and identification of causes lead to discoveries and innovations whose effects can be universally reproduced.

The complementarily of rationalities

The universality and the universalization of science are postulates of scientific thinking as it was formed in the classical period and developed in the course of industrialization. Indeed, these postulates were adopted by nonuniversalist cultures for reasons that have less to do with the definition of scientific research than with the power of economic-military-industrial complexes [57, 41]. Yet, although the operational power of modern science provided European imperialism with a means of unprecedented efficacy, the universality postulated by modern science did not (and could not) thereby make Western civilization universal. The desire for knowledge is truly universal no matter what form the knowledge may take. However, the universality of scientific knowledge in the Western sense affects only the network formed and developed by the adoption of the model of scientific institutions- from structures of education, training, and research to social and political institutions - that was created in Europe.

It is therefore easy to appreciate the limits and too often the failures of certain experiments in modernization conducted at headlong speed without regard for the economic, social, or cultural realities of the societies in which they were being conducted; the utilization of science and technology cannot be reduced to the insertion of knowledge or know-how, techniques, and methods into a social fabric that is unprepared. This fact underlies the equivocal nature (for some the illusion) of the notion of "technology transfer," a transfer that involves much more than the movement of a physical object from one place to another. Transfers of technology require the preparation of education, management, and production structures appropriate to the mastery of the production of knowledge and know-how themselves.

Do such structures have to be identical to those that produced modern science in Western countries? Not necessarily, given the example of Japan, where the Meiji "Restoration" led to the political decision to import the European scientific and technical model. The initiation into, and the rapid mastery of, Western scientific thinking came about not in terms of a rejection of a Japanese approach, but rather as its fulfilment. What distinguishes Japan from the European speculative heritage that dates back to ancient Greece is an attitude to science defined more in terms of its ability to produce practical applications rather than in terms of its purely scientific creative power. It is obvious that Japan never tried to follow the West blindly; instead, it tried to incorporate into its own system only those elements that would be of advantage in its task of modernization. This prudent and selective process of learning is often referred to as wakon yosai, meaning "Japanese spirit and Western learning" [15, 16].

The international network of scientists trained in the same institutions of higher learning and research, speaking the same language and publishing in the same journals, meeting one another periodically in the same places for colloquia and conferences, is indeed based upon the shared language, methods, and results of a universal scientific community in the Western sense. For a researcher, the notion of belonging to the extended community of science is highly significant and supportive. But this international network of science, in much the same way as the airline routes, is not universal in the sense that absolutely everyone can join in: belonging to the network is not the same as sharing in the conceptual framework that gave rise to that network. From this viewpoint, the "universality" of modern science is illusory.

It is not enough to rely upon the universal methods of science and technology in order to reproduce a model of development based on a tradition, history, and reality alien to that of most developing countries. What has been written about India in the aftermath of Independence is equally applicable to many other cases: "Science has grown as an oasis in an environment which, if not antagonistic, is also not sympathetic to it, with the majority of people steeped in superstitions and traditionalism of which many of the leading scientists are also victims" [45, p. 94]. It may appear obvious that one of the major aims of any development process must be to acknowledge science and technology as crucial elements in social and cultural life. But this is much easier said than done, and it is not surprising that Nehru and subsequent Indian leaders have constantly fought to spread the "scientific temper" among the vast population of the subcontinent.

At the same time, this does not mean dismissing sciences based on a different rationality from that of Western science, particularly since these have ceased to be strange and exotic in the West. They are thriving even in the midst of the scientific establishment, as is clear from the way that the teaching of acupuncture has spread in Western medical schools, or from the return to herbal remedies and "soft" technologies. The criticism of Western medicine for offering "aggressive" treatments and drugs, which do not respect the "harmony" of the balance between the psyche and the some, is another example of a cultural transfer from East to West. The range of rationalities needs to be recognized by stressing the way they complement one another, rather than setting them against each other. Nor is their coexistence neutral: it leads to positive interactions, and it is well known that non-Western medicine can have beneficial effects on cases of chronic and functional disorders.

For the health services of developing countries, this complementarity in fact accords with social necessity. In Asia, the popular medicine provided by herbalists, soothsayers, spirit mediums, Taoist or Buddhist priests carries on alongside scholarly traditional medicine practiced by people trained in recognized schools and hospitals [17, 29]. This scholarly medicine is supported by the World Health Organization, because its usefulness is all the greater in that Western medicine is costly, beyond the reach of the majority, and impossible to provide in country areas. Moreover, the two styles of medicine do not merely complement each other in providing treatments, but also in research, with studies combining traditional remedies and modern chemotherapy techniques. Since the 1970s, in Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, publications on traditional Chinese medicine (kanpo) have enjoyed a tremendous boom, and it is not uncommon for a Japanese doctor trained in Western methods to practise kanpo at the same time, just as there are acupuncturists who increase the effectiveness of the needles by passing an electric current through them.

Yet, one must recognize that these transfers of practices from East to West are examples closer to what might be called "soft technologies" than to the technologies represented by the giant scientific complexes that are the mainstay of advanced physics and biology. The coexistence of different systems of rationality refers to institutions and practices from different levels, and what is valid for medicine, still more an art than a science, and even more so for the social sciences, may not be applicable to the "hard" part of scientific research. At the same time, within industrialized countries, the growing awareness of the social costs of the process of industrialization and the related threats faced by the environment leads some to question the foundations of Western rationality. Thus the coexistence of rationalities demands reflection not only on the limits to knowledge that does not meet the criteria of modern science, but also on the limits encountered by the very application of this kind of rationality. Even modern science, which based its claims to universality on the association of knowledge and power, is rediscovering that it is necessary to pay heed to the gap between knowledge and wisdom.

The search for new paths that would provide a legitimate and more viable framework for the pursuit of alternative development strategies requires a change in the perspective from which the concepts of "development" and "progress" are viewed. Despite its unquestionable achievements, the Western scientific-technological culture cannot be considered as the universal model to be imitated by the developing countries. A more ecumenical perception of the processes of development and progress is required, in which the potentialities of the many cultures that are part of the developing countries have to be revalued and appreciated, particularly if one tries to visualize what could be achieved through a harmonious integration of their cultural heritage with modern science. There have been many discussions on the question of whether it is possible to evolve a Latin American, Islamic, Asian, or African science, in contrast with the universal character of modern Western science that would not admit local variants. In a sense, this debate is an outgrowth of the much wider (and long-standing) debate between the "internalist" and "externalist" schools of thought in the history of science, which respectively attribute the main driving force of science to causes internal to the scientific enterprise and to the social context of science [51].

It is clear that the rate and direction of scientific progress is affected by considerations both external and internal to the conduct of scientific activities. If science is to be integrated with the cultures of the developing countries, so as to lead to the growth of science and technology capabilities, it is necessary to pay more attention to the factors that confer on science a local flavour and condition the necessity of its being combined with the cultural heritage of the developing countries. For instance, the process of identifying, selecting, and formulating problems so they would be amenable to attack through scientific research is clearly influenced by economic, social, political, and cultural factors. And while the choice of an individual research project may be more affected by considerations closely linked to the conduct of scientific research, the overall thrust of the scientific effort of a given nation is clearly conditioned by the general context in which science is inserted. The postulation of hypotheses and the building of theories to be tested are also influenced by broader considerations of a cultural character. This is a process where creativity finds room for expression, and where there is room for the modes and habits of thought that characterize different cultures to manifest themselves. Finally, the process of testing and verifying hypotheses must allow for the possibility of independent corroboration, and should comprehend rigorous comparison of the hypotheses - and the predictions derived from them - with the actual behavior of the phenomena under scrutiny. This aspect of the scientific process is obviously the least amenable to the introduction of local considerations, and verification methods should, at least as an ideal, be truly universal.

This shows that a "local flavour" can be imparted to the conduct of science through the first stages of problem identification and formulation of hypotheses, and that in the stage of verification it becomes necessary to acknowledge the universal character of the scientific enterprise. And thus it is possible to orient the growth of science or at least an important part of a "national" scientific enterprise in the developing countries in directions that would respond more to the local conditions and problems and take into account their cultural heritage, while at the same time maintaining the crucial aspects of methodology and subsequent universality that are essential for the conduct of modern science. Indeed, furthering scientific knowledge and (all the more) mastering technological change make up a social process in which individuals and groups make choices about the allocation of extremely scarce resources. There is the saying: "Tell me who you know, and I will tell you who you are." When it comes to development and the uses of, as well as the support for, scientific and technological resources, this can be rephrased: "Tell me what you are researching and which innovations appeal to you, and I'll tell you what you really care about."


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2 The story of development thinking

Nasser Pakdaman

Pioneers in development
The discipline develops
The centre and the periphery
Questioning and crises

After the Second World War, academic economics began to tackle the problem of how to deal effectively with the poverty and destitution that weighed upon two-thirds of the human race. Development economics is "a comparatively young area of inquiry. . . born about a generation ago" [27, p. 372] "[It] did not arise as a formal theoretical discipline, but was fashioned as a practical subject in response to the needs of policymakers to advise governments on what could and should be done to allow their countries to emerge from chronic poverty" [47].

Its birth occurred in an unusual historical context and under the decisive influence of a range of political and cultural factors. The historical background was the aftermath of the Second World War, whose end led to optimism that new forms of international cooperation and solidarity would be effective in resolving the problems of "backward" countries and regions and would create new opportunities in this regard. The disintegration of the colonial empires as a result of movements for national independence brought to prominence a new factor that hitherto - like the Third Estate in pre-Revolutionary France - had been "nothing" but now wanted to become, if not "everything," at least "something." "To become something" expressed a desire or an intention to bring about change that can be found underlying all the plans for development conceived by those parts of the planet later labelled by Alfred Sauvy as "the Third World" [61]. The development of this "neglected, exploited and despised" world, to quote Sauvy, was a very important international cause for concern, "a major problem that should fill the next half-century, and perhaps the one after that as well, provided that no serious accident occurs to give a new twist to the conflict between the two power blocs" [60].

It was against this background that the problems of development acquired far greater urgency than ever before and attracted the attention of economists. This is also the impression given by reading the accounts of the "pioneers in development," who were drawn from all sorts of backgrounds and for all sorts of reasons to study the problems of underdevelopment at that time [47].

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