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close this bookThe Impact of Technology on Human Rights: Global Case-studies (UNU, 1993, 322 pages)
close this folder1. Technological impacts on human rights: Models of development, science and technology, and human rights
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe definition of the concept of technology
View the documentThe origins of the western technological culture
View the documentEnlightenment, the open industrial society, and human rights
View the documentThe enlightenment model of industrial development
View the documentA critical analysis of the enlightenment model of industrial development (technological imperialism)
View the documentModels of development and the technological factor
View the documentDevelopment, choice, and human rights
View the documentThe ''deconstruction'' of deterministic models of development
View the documentNotes

The enlightenment model of industrial development

In order to pursue our analysis of the relationship of technological development and human rights we have to elaborate on the model of development that is connected with the Enlightenment and the rise of industrial society. This is particularly important because this model of development still plays a dominant role in the thinking of many leaders in the domain of (post) industrial development. Our description of the Enlightenment model of industrial development will be, perforce, of an ideal, typical or constructed in the Weberian sense. This model was for the first time formulated in a coherent way by Saint-Simon at the very beginning of the nineteenth century.

Saint-Simon was convinced that the progress of industrialism would exert a far-reaching and overwhelmingly positive impact on society. In the final analysis, he thought, it is in industry that all the real forces of society can be found. A social order adapted to the requirements of modern industry and its technical development is the best ordering of society, and scientists will have a decisive position of power within it. This model of development has become known in modern economics and sociology as the "industrial convergence thesis" (other appellations being "technological functionalism" and "technological imperialism") and is, as we have already remarked, still a powerful model of development.27

In this model, two main forces determine the development of society:

1. The march of rationality, resulting from the inquiring human mind that follows the rules of positivist - logico-empirical - science, while analysing the physical and social world (see pp. 18-22 above) in the pursuit of truth. Moreover, this leads to the development of new technologies, which are partly at least - applications of the growth of knowledge.

2. The open international large-scale markets which compel industry to adopt quickly the best available technology in production processes. Failure to do so by an enterprise or branch of industry would result in quick deterioration of its international competitive position. The general idea is that of all the available technologies only one can be the most efficient and effective. Relative benefits will flow to that entity which succeeds in developing new technologies or in acquiring the most efficient and effective technologies at an early stage. This is, in fact, technological Darwinism: the survival of the fittest technology.

It is, however, not only the adoption of the best technology that counts, but also the successful combination of (new) technologies with the best type of organization of both the production process and the trading company or system of companies. In connection with particular types of technology, the argument runs, there is also only one type of organization which is the most efficient and effective.

Furthermore, it follows from what we have said that a specific combination of technology and organization determines the nature of the division of labour. This, in turn, determines the job requirements with which workers are confronted, requirements relating to the content of available jobs, working relations, working conditions, the organization's hierarchy, and opportunities for advancement in the organization. This model implies that the advancement of industrialism is, in modern times, strongly dependent on the educational system that has to provide individuals with the abilities and skills that meet the require meets of the economic system. The educational system has to educate and train persons both for the scientific and technological high culture - the persons who will contribute to the advancement of science and technology and fill management positions - and for the many other jobs on which a modern organization depends. Although part of the training and research and development occur within modern enterprises, the economy of a country is highly dependent on the rational organization of higher education and research and on the effectiveness of this system in fulfilling the needs of the economy. The role of the state in the process of adapting the educational and research system to these needs is an important one. The state is also very important in relation to another task: the redistribution of part of the national wealth by the agencies of the welfare state. This function of the state tends to contribute to the reduction of class conflict - a conflict which hampers the efficient and effective production of goods and services. It also enhances the capacity of citizens to play their role in the consumer market.

Industrialism has, in this way, a logic of its own, "whether under capitalism or socialism or other auspices. Much of what happens to management and to labour is the same regardless of auspices."28 Indeed, the most powerful engine of production is knowledge: "Industrialization itself began with new knowledge about steam and machinery. This is where the 'greet transformation' began." 29

This logic of industrialism implies that social life can only adapt to the deterministic line that has been described above. But this is not considered to be a disadvantage. By the march of rationality and the rationalization of economic and social life, society is pushed towards a better future. It achieves a high level of welfare and a lower degree of social inequality. Such social inequality as remains is based on differences between individual levels of achievement. There is also a strong professionalization of the workforce as a consequence of the great need for highly qualified staff in a science- and "high-tech"-based organization for the production of goods and services. Society has to adapt to this line of development, but the pay-offs are considered to be very high.

It is evident that the universalism on which the model is based contrasts with the cultural and social diversity of the world in which the industrial - and post-industrial -development take place. According to the logic of this model all of the social institutions and cultural differences that hamper the logic of industrial development are doomed. Social and cultural differences between nations, regions, and peoples continue to exist only as long as they do not stand in the way of progress or when they contribute to a nation's specific advantage, for example when traditional values help to discipline the workforce and to comply with the exigencies of organizational change.

The relationship between technological development and human rights is, within this model, not considered to be problematic. On the contrary, the way of industrialism leads to the liberation of man from traditional and limiting social and cultural bonds and thus from bondage and ignorance. Industrial development reduces class antagonism and depression by the state; it enhances opportunities for individual choice; it provides the opportunities for democratic participation and for the development of socio-economic rights. The model is also optimistic with respect to the possibilities for the solution of problems in the future, including those problems that are caused by industrial development itself. This optimism is, of course, grounded on the confidence that logico-empirical science will always find new opportunities and technologies to handle present and future problems.