Contents - Previous - Next
This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu
Dr Abdel-Malek initiated discussion by emphasising the essential connection between political power and scientific-technological development. Political power is a prerequisite of any genuine development, and "the only way to promote creativity in technology and science is by means of a vigorous development of independence, of national construction, of the mobilisation of the wide potentials at work in our nations and cultures. Unless we understand that primacy is to the political, and not to the scientific, the scientific will never take off." Thus, as can be seen from the decisions and resolutions of all meetings of the countries of the non-aligned movement, from Bandung to Havana, people in the Third World "totally reject" notions of 'appropriate' technology precisely because such notions ignore and conceal the dimensions of political power and hegemony in the world today. On the other hand, "what we have in mind when we speak of creativity in technology and science is the endogenous creativity of the masses of the population around the power of decision, independent and sovereign, democratic and progressive hopefully, to tap, as it were, the depth of the historical field of their own specific cultures and civilisations.. and to bring forth new things". The case of India is a good example of this: Indian intellectuals have been of an excellent quality both before and since independence; yet "the extraordinary progress of Indian science and technology" has occurred only since 1947 "because at that time the Indian Congress leading the revolution... created the structures and impetus to mobilise these potentials, capable of creating, not alternative, but indigenous scientific and technological creativity...". Such creativity might not be appropriate: "it might be inappropriate, but this is the process of a given takeoff, viz. trial and error. The point is that unless we mobilise we can't steer clear" of obstacles on the way to real development. "As long as the power structures of the developing or underdeveloped societies..., and especially [those] in the key areas of influence, are occulted..., no hope can be entertained about mobilising the potentials of the popular masses and the intellectuals towards creativity."
"Hegemony is not just a concept." It is something concrete; and it obviously has its strongest effects on the lives of people in the developing countries and on scientific-technological conditions in those countries. In this respect, Dr Abdel-Malek spoke about what he called "the dangers, the perils of equidistance... for Third World countries who are facing hegemonism, imperialism and colonialism". Although "not at all a partisan of strategic alliances", Dr Abdel-Malek said that "maybe we need progressive forces in advanced countries and of course progressive States more, not because we like them more, but simply because objectively for the past twenty-five or thirty years, it so happened that this sector of mankind has been of more help objectively.... For us this is an irreversible experience. We cannot go back on that by equidistantiation."
However, "instead of equidistance in cultural and scientific things, we should have... a panel of realistic, meaningful interrelations with everybody, absolutely without any exclusion and without any ideological a priori. I think it makes no sense to put ideology here. It is a problem of Realpolitik, not of ideology.... Maybe in one phase of the balance of world power, major countries which have been reluctant here and there to take action might take some action, which might be of some use to endogenous centres of decision and... of creativity. Maybe. We should never close our eyes to the feasibility of equable relations." Look at China.... "After fifty years of revolution [and with] one-quarter of humanity, maybe they can open up more than other people can do"; but "we should [all] live together realistically". We should not, however, "fool ourselves by imagining that we are living in a world of angels where everybody smiles at everyone else, saying 'be good', 'take off', 'let me help you'. Things are much more complex."
"If we take this realistic approach to the prerequisites of creativity, we shall see that meaningful interaction can obtain instead of a prepostulated ecumenism, which is not a fact of life... and I think that by stressing differences we shall see how we can relate in a meaningful manner...." In this way, it will be possible to seek a realistic complementarily in objective terms. "The way to defuse antagonistic contradictions is to seek systematically, with a cool head, ways and means to complementarily - and not just ways and means to like each other and embrace each other."
Of course, there might be differences which cannot possibly be bridged. "If we locate these, we might progress a little. If we don't,... not much will take place.... But, happily, meaningful forces are now at work... proceeding along the path of realism towards meaningful comparatism and complementarily."
Following Dr Abdel-Malek's intervention, Dr el-Kholy differed with Dr Stambuk on the way in which the latter had linked technology automatically with science. Dr el-Kholy noted that "historically this is not the case, nor is it absolutely the case nowadays. Technology as the sum total of human knowledge, which is used within a particular framework, a particular set of social values and relations, to satisfy a certain social demand, is not necessarily... applied science."
Dr el-Kholy then also warned against assumptions that "technology as such has an inner dynamic which, independently of social action, results either in certain technological innovations or in certain types of products...". Assumptions of this type basically treat the development of technology as a historical accident, whereas "innovation is after all an economic reality dictated by certain sections in society which exercise a clear choice and a direct influence on the demands made upon innovators and technologists".
Dr James Maraj next took the floor and drew the conference's attention to the conditions of the island communities of the world. Although until recently little was heard about such communities in discussions concerning development and the Third World, the islands of the world now seem to be on the brink of emerging with a new importance during the 1980s. "If it is true that non-renewable resources are almost depleted and natural resources on which the major nations depend are almost fully exploited, where shall we find the wherewithal to go on? Could it be the resources of the sea?" Certainly, these questions are not unrelated to the fact that "the Pacific - the largest of the oceans - has been rediscovered by the major superpowers (and the not-so-super) in the last three to four years".
Like other developing nations, island peoples are also "concerned with meeting basic needs, feeding, clothing and housing our peoples"; they must promote health and productivity, and they must deal with population growth. Yet, throughout their colonial experience, whether British or French, education was generally limited to preparation for a "clerkship"; and "one has only to look at our education systems even today to recognise that they are weakest in science". Thus, "the number of people in small island communities around the world who have any real knowledge of science or its possible applications is extremely small". In these conditions, "it is clear that, if we are to fully exploit the resources of our 200-mile economic zones, island communities will have to rely on technology from the more developed countries - from the more developed, not from the more skilled in exploitation. We have no hang-ups about power blocks of one kind or another. We prefer to avoid polarisations and would gladly borrow techniques from here, management styles from there, and patterns of communication from everywhere. But the choice must be ours. Freedom to choose is one of the more valued assets of independence...."
"In meetings on the law of the sea - a great deal of rhetoric has flowed about what is called the heritage of Man. We are advised that certain things should not be regarded as belonging to any particular State or nation, but they should be regarded as belonging to mankind.... In my view scientific knowledge and know-how is also part of the heritage of Man. The knowledge industry - with its closed shop approach that denies us access - seems to suggest that what I know, I keep, I hold - and guard. That is not to be shared. What kind of transformation and what kind of world will this lead to? You share my resources. I cannot share yours (which include your scientific and technological knowledge)."
While the potential of science and technology to transform the world must be acknowledged, nevertheless "major problems facing mankind - such as questions of national identity, ethnocentrism, social justice and personal freedoms - do not lend themselves to the tools and techniques of technology as we [normally] understand it. For transformation to be meaningful, these matters, too, deserve our attention. It is all too easy... to believe that the better world we seek will necessarily be a product of science and technology [alone]."
Likewise, added Dr Maraj, "there are other things to life apart from 'economic development"'. While people in island communities want to assure themselves of a dignified standard of living, they nevertheless "do not wish to change one brand of magic for another or to become sacrifices on the altar of science and technology. If dependence on science and technology is going to result in a more homogeneous humanity, we would view that as a danger, for we have no burning desire to be made in the image or likeness of anyone."
In the following intervention, Dr André Despic agreed with Dr Abdel-Malek that social and political realism is necessary in discussing the role of science and technology in the transformation of the world. It is "characteristic of the present situation... that the globe contains a spectrum of situations wider than ever before in terms of the material level of civilization and its technical possibilities". Therefore, it is imperative to discuss different situations separately. If discussion is limited to the promises of technological development in the world in general, misunderstandings are bound to arise, "since what applies to one situation most certainly does not apply to another". When situations are distinguished in this way, it is clear that the main problem of the foreseeable future will be "to help the major portion of the globe overcome its essential problems of survival".
Meanwhile, "in the so-called developed part of the globe, ... civilization is facing a crisis arising from several factors evolving simultaneously. The first is population expansion; the second is the rapid exhaustion of energy sources; a third is the rapid exhaustion of material resources in general; and the fourth consists of the various forms of environmental pollution." Finding solutions to these problems presents scientific research and development with a very difficult task that is "likely to absorb their capacities for some time to come. Even if it does absorb these capacities, it is still very questionable whether we shall be able to maintain the present level of technical civilization in the future."
In regard to the problem of transferring technologies at present available, "one has to take into account the absence of motivation to give away anything without some kind of return. The problem is that the proprietors of technologies are usually not interested in ideological, philosophical, sociological and other reasons for giving away what they possess, while those who are, including us, have no power over properties, including technology. And it is interesting that proprietors do not seem to live in capitalist countries only.... Hence, I think that one has to work very hard on finding, defining and making known all the arguments - I should say the interest-based arguments - for faster exchange of new technologies."
Dr Despic said Dr Stambuk was correct in calling for a redefinition of the concept of development, and he agreed that a definition in terms of per capita income was "very poor". He stressed the importance, however, of having "some common basis of comparison", and he wondered whether "such a common basis couldn't be found in terms of the work that has to be put into overcoming basic material needs; in other words, in terms of productivity".
As noted previously by Dr Holland, increased productivity is posing a problem especially for the developed countries. "Technological development by definition leads to increased productivity and to reduction of needs for manpower." Dr Despic was of the opinion that "no society so far has found good ways of coping with excess labour". Yet "in a rational world" it should be dealt with "by reducing working hours while maintaining a given level of income".
Dr Hossam Issa then commented on the legal aspects of the transfer of technology. Dr Issa criticised Dr Besarovic for attempting what he considered to be "a purely legal solution to the problems of transfer of technology from the developed to the 'developing countries"'. In his opinion "there is no possible legal solution to the problems of the transfer of technology". The reason for this lies in the nature of the multinational corporations who are today the main agents of technology-transfer from the North to the South. First of all, there is a contradiction "between the transnational character of the activities of these corporation and the national character of the law. The national law [of a developing country] cannot control the activities of the multinational corporations, because these activities are transnational, and therefore they stand beyond the realm of competence of the national law." There is a second contradiction "between the legal concept of nationality of the affiliated company in the host country and the real nationality of the capital which controls the company. The national law of the host country considers the affiliated company as national, enjoying all the prerogatives reserved to its nationals, while it is, in fact, a part of a transnational network completely controlled by the mother company based in one or another developed country." This contradiction "can affect and even distort the concept of collective self-reliance among the developing countries", because, if such an affiliated company controlled by a transnational network but constituted according to the law of a developing country starts to transfer technology to another developing country, "this can be considered as technical co-operation among developing countries". These two contradictions "make it very difficult if not impossible to imagine a purely legal solution to the problems of transfer of technology".
Another important aspect of this problem, however, is that of the legal protection of trade-marks. "In fact, in many cases of so-called transfer of technology from the North to the South, there is no transfer of technology at all, but only transfer of trade-marks covering already standardised well-known technologies. Of course, the developing countries have to pay for these trade-marks, [and this is then] erroneously labelled as transfer of technology by the multinational corporations."
In a forceful presentation foreshadowing some of the themes to be considered in the fifth session, Dr Ahmad Yousef Hassan emphasised that it is important to understand the relative temporariness of present-day problems of development. The "traditional civilisations in China, Islam and India", for example, knew periods during which the sciences flourished for centuries, and they will undoubtedly know such times again. It is thus not accurate to depict the African, Asian and Latin American nations as caught in a permanently desperate condition. In this sense the history of science and technology can furnish materials which are useful for bringing home the fact that circumstances at a given point in history are not immutable. To cite only one example, it is very amusing today to consider the opinions of one of the world's first historians of science, Said Al-Andalusi, who lived over eight hundred years ago. In his book Kitab Tabakât Al-Umam (The Book of the Classification of Nations), Said was concerned, just as we are today, with classifying nations according to their level of development and underdevelopment in science. "He classified as developed nations the Indians, Chinese, Iranians, etc. And he also classified the underdeveloped nations: he cited first among them the North Europeans - if you read the description of the North Europeans, you will be astonished to hear that it is impossible for North Europeans to develop." Such a description of the conditions of nations then should remind us of the relativity of our classifications now as well: "We should really look into the history of nations and the history of civilisations general and not limit our thinking to the prevailing situation at the time being." Certainly, more research should be devoted to the history of science and technology in the non-European civilisations
On the question of appropriate technology, Dr Hassan thought it "dangerous" to speak of "a developed science and technology for Western countries and a special kind of science and technology for Third World countries". It is astonishing for the advanced countries to say to the developing countries, "don't develop because you will run into ecological dangers". It is certainly doubtful that the Third World countries would be heeded if they offered the same advice to the West. It is also astonishing that "advanced countries are afraid for the fate of the cultures of the developing countries. They say, 'don't develop because we are afraid that your culture will be affected. You should keep your culture, you should keep your traditions.' Why should there be a contradiction between science and technology [on the one hand] and national cultures [on the other]?"
As a result of such 'solicitude', "scientists and scholars in the Third World are being confused. They are being brain-washed, because they are being given big theories about 'appropriate' technology, about 'small is beautiful', etc.; and this is really affecting development in the Third World countries.... " Likewise, it seems that in international conferences on development "people have started to ignore industrialisation... Now is it true that we can develop without industrialisation? Just because we want to be modern, because we want to be scientific, should we now discard all theories about industrialisation Why did the socialist countries without exception adopt industrialisation Why are the socialist countries now themselves no longer talking about this? Will they speak to Third World countries? I wonder."
Indian MP Dr Rasheeduddin Khan emphasised the necessity of viewing scientific-technological development in the Third World countries within the context of contemporary global developments. By way of introduction, Rasheeduddin Khan said that since 1945 the world has arguably undergone the most radical transformation of her entire history. Within this transformation, the major global phenomenon at this time is the gigantic contradiction "between global growth, incremental growth, if you please, and regional, specific, national, endogenous development". Put more simply, this contradiction is manifested as that "between the post-industrial societies and the post-colonial societies"; and it is manifested here on at least seven counts. The first manifestation lies in the opposition between the "exponential development in science and technology, on the one hand, and the inching forward of socio-economic transformations, on the other... that is, the jet-age speed of techno-scientific transformation is matched by the ox-cart speed of transformation in Africa, in Asia and in certain parts of Latin America". Secondly, "the phenomenal expansion of world trade... is matched by stagnant islands of pre-industrial commercial patterns". Thirdly, there is "the contradiction between revolutionary transformations in communication, media and transportation, on the one hand, and the utilisation [of such facilities] by a very small portion of mankind, almost exclusively in a few of the world's advanced communities". The fourth manifestation is found in the "disproportionate consumption of energy, natural resources and services" by the few industrially advanced countries and "the increasing depletion and even exhaustion of natural wealth in the former colonies". The fifth is the "tremendous wasteful expenditure on armaments and the arms race", as opposed to the "lack of resources... available for human developmental activities". Sixth is "this increasing crescendo of emphasis on individual human rights to the utter neglect of the rights of humanity". People are faced with the suppression of their right to "life, national independence and dignity", while emphasis is placed on "artificial rights of the individual human being in a society whose structures themselves secrete inequality and violence" (e.g. the caste system in India). Lastly, there is a contradiction between urban-dominated social, political and media systems (on the one hand) and a large rural hinterland (on the other). "The conclusion is very clear. The gap between what are called the developed and the developing worlds has increased in the last thirty years much more than it ever did before. In other words, the colonial system was a more simple system than the post-colonial system. I would like to qualify this: the post-colonial system appears post-colonial in name only, for in regard to its actual stranglehold on people's minds, liberties and creativity, it is much more firm and much more sophisticated...."
The second major phenomenon in the world today is that of the globalisation of human affairs. At a time when national sovereignties have emerged, when national identities have been created and people are struggling, fighting, laying down their lives for the maintenance of these identities, the world has become highly globalised." Globalisation of the economy, globalisation of techno-scientific culture, globalisation of value-orientations and culture have all taken place; and, in general, this globalisation encroaches on and abridges the autonomy of the action of individual citizens in their societies". The transnational corporations are probably "the most vivid examples of the globalisation of the economy which has today reached such a point that even the advanced, post-industrial countries are in peril. Today the great United States dare not act in contradiction to the global policy perspectives of the transnational corporations.... I mean, it is very funny. How is it possible for the dollar, which is one of the world's hardest currencies, always to go up and down? It is only possible because the multinational corporations can at any given moment transfer their assets, e.g. from Los Angeles, Frankfurt or Zurich to Panama City...." Likewise, in India "the World Bank refused to advance loans unless population control went forward. Therefore, the excesses in the family planning programmes carried out under the auspices of Mrs Gandhi are ultimately traceable to the screws which the international institutions had put on India...."
In the light of such pressure, as well as in the light of the powerful yet subtle forces which modern science and technology make available, it is indeed strange to the honest observer that peoples in the developing countries are advised to content themselves with natural bliss and intermediate technology. In this regard a Gandhian model of technology is at times proposed. In Dr Rasheeduddin Khan's opinion, "the Gandhian model is more in the nature of a moral imperative which one might keep in mind by emphasising that small is beautiful, that large growth alone will not do; but I doubt whether the actual [working up] of a Gandhian model into a third technology is possible...". In most of the developing countries, the problem "is really one of how to distribute justice and welfare without allowing the small, rural-urban élite to dominate all positions of power".
In the last intervention of the morning, Dr lmmanuel Wallerstein analysed several of the disagreements which had marked the proceedings of the conference, and he suggested that several apparently contradictory positions were in fact complementary. It was first of all recalled that Dr Pandeya and Dr Macura had differed during the first session over the question of 'appropriate technology'; Dr Macura championed it and Dr Pandeya objected on the grounds that it would not lead to liberation for the Third World; Dr Macura, in turn, warned against repeating the mistakes of the developed world. Secondly, it was noted that there had been dispute about whether the locus of the problematic about scientific technological development lay in the nature of science itself or in the specific social uses to which it was put: Dr Barel, for example, had argued that science itself is socio-epistemological and thus problematical, and other participants had, in turn, taxed this approach as involving a subtlety which might appeal to people in developed countries but which had little meaning in the technologically backward conditions of the developing countries.
According to Dr Wallerstein, the opposing positions in each of these disputes were to a certain extent the expression of a theoretical problem which had not been clearly posed and whose essential elements were thus coming to the fore as a clash of opinions. "On the one hand, we all want equality which has a flavour of sameness, and then, on the other hand, we are using as a code-theme the very legitimate and important concept of endogenous intellectual creativity, which implies the opposite of sameness. It implies that there are not only real differences, but real different potentials within this world...." Now, "presumably", the aim of endogenous creativity is to "somehow help us... on the way to equality"; and it must therefore comprise two aspects. The first is that of power, for "endogenous intellectual creativity can by its appearance and cultivation change real power relations in the world... [and] then have some impact on this issue of the growing polarisation" of the various parts of the world. The second aspect is that of interaction, of the possibility "that out of this wealth which is... the multiplicity of world civilization, some different ideas may, in fact, emerge about very central problems like technology and science.... And [perhaps] new ways of thinking about things will, in fact, be translated into social realities."
In this connection, the concept of self-reliance raises several problems. Self-reliance is "a very nice slogan" which "has its dangers, because it implies that separate States can, in fact, transform their own situation. The reality of the world for a long time now has been that States are not real economic units." Globalisation has been under way for centuries and has entailed "a polarisation in material distribution and power distribution within the world economy... [which] is continuing. Everything that is occurring in the world today is making it bigger, not smaller... and the issue is what kind of policies will, in fact, reverse this." Indeed, many people have already tried to reverse this polarisation "some people for one hundred to one hundred and fifty years"; and "in fact, the net result of their very serious efforts to reverse this growing polarisation.. have, in fact, increased... it, not decreased it".
According to Dr Wallerstein, no national government, no matter how powerful, can today completely control the economic conditions prevailing within its borders. The lesson to be drawn from this is that "if we want to change the economic realities of the country in which we live, then the only way to do that is to change the economic realities of the world in which we live". It is only by working towards this goal that activities for political transformation of any given country become meaningful. "... by changing policies within given countries that may have an impact on the whole world structure..., through that intermediate level we rebound back eventually on a more egalitarian world. But if we leave out the intermediate step from our own thinking, then we come into the contradiction that we have had in the last fifty years, [viz.] that our national policies aimed at reducing inequality have, in fact, increased world inequality."
Contents - Previous - Next