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Sponsored jointly by the United Nations University and the University of Belgrade, the conference recounted in these pages and devoted to examination of the theme of 'Science and Technology in the Transformation of the World' was the first of a series of six organised by Prof. Anouar Abdel-Malek around the sub-project on 'The Transformation of the World'. This first seminar of the series was held in Belgrade from 22 through 26 October 1979 and it was attended by some 70 participants, most of whom were academics. Of these participants, approximately half were guests from abroad - Japan, Western Europe, the Islamic world, India and Latin America all being well represented. The other half of the participants consisted of a friendly and extremely hospitable contingent of distinguished Yugoslavians, who were serious-minded but lively and endowed with that talent for languages for which their countrymen are so well known.
Apart from the formal opening ceremonies (which were held on the University's premises in the 'Old City'), all of the conference's sessions took place in the comfortable facilities of the Hotel Jugoslavija, which faces the Bulevar Lenjina in Belgrade's 'New City' (that section constructed since Liberation in 1944) and which from the rear overlooks the Danube close to where the latter is joined by the Sava. After the opening ceremonies on Monday morning, five plenary working sessions of four hours each were convened during the next two and a half days, ending on Wednesday evening. Thursday was devoted to informal workshops, each of which examined questions that had developed out of one of the working sessions held on the previous days. Friday was taken up with the drafting of reports on the work of the conference and with a final plenary session during which these reports were presented, discussed and accepted.
What follows is a detailed general report based on the (revised, but unedited) typescript of the Proceedings of the conference. This report was commissioned with the idea of providing a fairly readable account, of a reasonable length, of the way in which the various arguments were expounded and developed; and it is hoped that it will be useful in making the work of the conference available to the general reading public. The format of presentation adopted has, in general, been that of keeping the chronological sequence of the various sessions intact, although the order of the several position papers within each section has been altered for purposes of logical exposition. The account of each session of the conference is here preceded by a brief introduction which attempts, as it were, to put into relief the most significant questions treated in that particular session. Following each introduction, the positions taken by the various participants are summarised, starting with the position papers and then proceeding to the discussion. The summaries here on the average amount to approximately one-quarter of the original length of the papers and transcribed interventions; direct quotations have been used wherever possible, and, in general, I have tried within each summary to adhere to the original in regard to both mode of expression and sequence of argumentation.
In editing any such large body of material, however, and especially one covering such a wide range of subjects, one inevitably leaves aside much that is fascinating, either because of requirements of space or balance or because of the necessarily limited scope of one's own vision. Therefore, the interested reader is advised of the forthcoming publication of the integral text of the conference Proceedings, which can be consulted on any question of particular interest; and, this having been mentioned, perhaps it can be suggested that the present text might usefully serve not only as a detailed account of the conference in its own right, but also as a companion volume to the full Proceedings.
The great differences between spoken and written language are of course well known; and while I have quoted many oral interventions directly, I have not hesitated to rework these, quite drastically at times, according to accepted norms of written English. This has been all the more necessary, and frequently for written as well as for oral pieces, in so far as most of the participants in the conference have had to communicate in a language other than their mother-tongue. On the other hand, several papers and speeches appear officially in the Proceedings of the conference in languages other than English; translations of passages from such pieces are my own and at times, I fear, inevitably lack the flavour and elegance of the originals.
In general this report is composed of a relatively high proportion of directly quoted material from the conference, but I have tried to keep the text as continuous and readable as possible. The use of ellipsis dots has therefore been kept to a minimum, except in cases in which material has for one reason or another been deleted from within a passage that is quoted. At the same time, there are many places in the report at which either a sentence or a paragraph ends with quotation marks while the following one begins immediately with new quotation marks. I'm afraid that in a text of this sort such oddities are rather difficult to avoid, and I can only hope that readers will have come across similar practices in journalistic writing and will be able to accommodate them here without much annoyance.
It should also be mentioned that, for one reason or another, several papers and interventions presented to the conference were not included in the typescript of the Proceedings; I have therefore been unable to give an account of those pieces in the present work. This has been the case with the position paper by Dr Imré Marton and with the written text of the paper by Dr A. N. Pandeya; it has likewise been the case for oral interventions by Drs Lefebvre, Barel, Marton and Besarovic.
The reader should be aware from the outset that the conference's attention was focused primarily on the social and political significance of science and technology. In other words, if we were to define science as a process by which human societies tend to understand objectively and, hence, to gain control of Nature (and if we are allowed a very sweeping generalisation), then it can be said that the participants in the conference concerned themselves more with the activities and organisation; of the subjects (i.e. human societies) than with the effects of such activities on that generic object, Nature, or with the material instruments for obtaining such effects. As noted in the discussion during the fifth session, most of the participants were in fact social scientists; and even those whose background lay in the natural sciences or engineering spoke during this gathering - and necessarily so - within the framework of the social sciences. Thus, one could say that, while micro-chips, nuclear energy and genetic engineering marked the contours of the landscape, the general terrain of the conference would have to be sited somewhere between what Yves Barel termed 'socio-epistemology' and what is generally known as 'science policy'. Unless I am mistaken, the choice of this terrain was a reflection of the fact that social movements striving for emancipation, and especially those in the Third World, are being forced to map theoretical and practical orientations which can serve to guide them in avoiding the various forms of scientific-technological determinism (both pessimistic and optimistic) coming more and more into relief now that economic determinism in its more general guises is being challenged increasingly, in the UN as elsewhere.
It is going to be obvious throughout this report that the politics of science and technology are inextricably linked to global politics in general. It would, however, be quite mistaken to expect the participants in the conference to have unanimously shared a common estimation of the present nature of this linkage or of the priority of tasks necessary for its progressive transformation. For example, proposed courses of action inevitably departed from particular analyses or readings of the present situation. Many participants spoke of political structures of domination and dependence as constituting the foundation of inequalities in the world today, while others put the emphasis on economic differentials or on disparities in scientific-technological potentials; still others stressed monopolistic control of informational resources, and some cited differences in levels of education as the root of the problem. While disparities at each of these instances are undoubtedly essential aspects of the structure of global inequality, the variety of specific weights assigned to each of them by different participants can be taken as a gauge of the contradictions within the assembly. Despite such differences, however, I believe that the conference functioned usefully as a forum not only for exchanging opinions, but also for mutual understanding and education.
I have not hesitated to express my own views and even to editorialise now and again in the course of this text; but I have tried, in general, to delineate them clearly from the views of others, either by restricting them to the intro auctions to the various sections or by inserting them into the summaries as obvious commentaries on the original texts. Nevertheless, the nature of a report like this has made it inevitable that my own positions should surface spontaneously, and it is probably only fair to make them explicit very briefly here. I will confine myself to three quick indications regarding questions of quite different magnitudes. First of all, I have at various points in the report referred to a distinction between traditional sciences and modern science (as it has grown up since the seventeenth century). I consider this distinction to be of methodological as well as of historical significance, for it is vital to a correct understanding of the unity of scientific endeavour. Further clarifications are to be found in the summary of my own paper in the fifth session. Secondly, a capacity to generate scientific and technological knowledge and innovation is an essential facet of any healthy productive system today; and to prevent a society from attaining such a capacity is in effect one substantive way to keep it not only backward, but also weak. Moreover, mastery of contemporary science and technology requires a genuine, dedicated respect for their objective specificities, which cannot be argued away. On the other hand, science and technology exhibit both productive and destructive aspects; and each of these aspects is itself problematical, given the various striking social contradictions in the world today. Science and technology can thus contribute to production which is either useful or wasteful, and either beneficial or harmful to human well-being; they can likewise contribute to the destruction of those phenomena which constitute obstacles to human well-being and creativity, or they can contribute to the destruction of some of the most precious qualities of mankind - and, indeed, even to the attempted destruction of entire societies. Which of these ends science and technology are to serve depends primarily on which social forces control their use and development. While it may thus well be true that science and technology can and even must be integrated to serve the often contradictory aspirations of different social forces, it is nevertheless incorrect to interpret this as meaning that they are socially neutral in any absolute sense: they are, rather, immense sources of power for whoever controls them. And at our present moment in history the progressive potentials of science and technology can in my opinion only be realised if they are placed at the service of the mobilised forces of the working people, both on a national and on a global scale. Lastly, then, I believe that the peoples of the Third World today as a body constitute the main force for the progressive transformation of the world, and the primary positive vocation of science and technology must be realised precisely in meeting their needs. Despite the machinations of those with vested interests to protect, this mammoth force in the underdeveloped parts of the world is more and more being joined by progressive forces in the developed world as well. It is thus possible to speak of the emergence of a global united front; and both positive and negative demands in regard to scientific-technological activities necessarily comprise important planks in the platform of this front. In my opinion, the chief forces opposed to the forward movement of the front as a whole are the two superpowers; and which one poses the most immediate danger to a particular country at a given moment undoubtedly depends on the conjuncture of a number of concrete factors. In general, however, the oppression and exploitation of the dependent countries in the world is perpetuated not only by the various forms of collusion between the two superpowers, but also by their rivalry - since (in the recent words of a senior non-aligned head of state) whenever great powers struggle to expand their spheres of influence, small nations are victimised and their interests damaged. The peoples of the Third World are thus striving to stand on their own feet and to unite, in order to throw off all forms of foreign domination - including the monopolist control of science and technology - which prevent them from occupying their rightful place in the world. At the same time, all progressive forces in the world must face the imperative task of fighting a positive struggle to unite all anti-imperialist and anti-hegemonist forces for the task of preventing another world war.
As a final word before moving on to the body of the report, I should like to express my thanks to Ludgard De Decker for her generous help in all phases of the preparation of this text.
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