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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

Development, choice, and human rights

We have presented the main models of development not for historical reasons, but because contemporary prevailing ideas about societal development and goals of development are derived from them. It is an uneasy heritage because these models of development in their present-day appearance fail to offer adequate explanations of current social changes. Nor do they give us a frame of reference that enables us to analyse the interrelationship between technological change and human rights and their development and implementation.

This uneasy heritage hampers an adequate understanding of what is happening in this domain. Increasingly, the social scientists are reacting critically to this heritage Among them is Tilly, who advises us, referring especially to Durkheim's legacy, to shrug off the nineteenth-century "incubus." 45

The reasons for the reassessment of these development models stem from different sources:

1. A growing concern over the direction in which industrial societies (or the industrial system) are (is) developing. Technical systems, especially information systems, are penetrating modern societies in all spheres of life in such a way that technological systems and social structures have become inextricable. Moreover, the adaptation of society to the impact of technology certainly does not exclude the rise of a societal type in which alienation prevails. It's also confronted with serious, massive, and undesirable long-term effects of unplanned technological development.

In many cases policy makers and opinion leaders in developing countries, looking at the direction in which advanced societies are moving, wonder whether major consequences, which are considered by them to be negative with respect to their ways of life, can be avoided.

2. A growing awareness of the ideological character of the industrialist developmental models. They express a specific pattern of values that supports the endeavours of specific managerial and technological elites.

3. A hopeful prospect that the development of post-industrial technological developments, especially of information technology, brings new possibilities for choice in its wake. While admitting that industrial development thus far did have unavoidable social consequences, this determinism is weakened by the fact that (as Gershuny summarizes this debate on the malleable society)

(a) increasing wealth means less unrequited need for goods to satisfy basic needs;

(b) as technologies develop, advantages of scale accrue to increasingly small productive units;

(c) technologies are no longer scarce. Instead of social shortcomings demanding technical solutions, we now often find, according to Gershuny, multiple technologies chasing scarce applications; and

(d) the development of new "control" technologies may be a substitute for some of the earlier determining factors. "Improvements in transport, telecommunications and data handling may produce the opportunities for different types or uses of organization." 46 Among these may be the facilitation of worker participation.

4. The above-mentioned sources have given a new impetus, in the late 1960s and onward, to a critical reconsideration of industrial development. This gave birth to numerous efforts to formulate new models or "paradigms" of development, such as those of Etzioni, Eisenstadt, Habermas, Giddens, and Touraine.47 All of these authors emphasize the significance of choice, of opportunities to direct change in a planned direction, and of the pivotal role of (collective) meanings or values in societal development.

5. Finally, since the 1970s, empirical research directed at the analysis of the linkages between (new) technologies and types of organizations has shown that the tenets of technological determinism do not stand a systematic empirical test. We will return to these research results afterwards. Moreover, the rise of Japan, as the first industrial nation outside the Western world, and its avoidance of many of the disrupting consequences - at least for the time being - of industrialization in Western societies, has also contributed to the reconsideration of the Western industrial models of development.

Technological determinism is under attack, and so are models of development that are based on social determinism. Sometimes we meet in the literature advocates of extreme voluntarism who push aside all factors which restrain our choices, maintaining that we are free to build our society according to our wishes: everything is considered to be "political" and to depend on the choices we make as political communities. This is certainly not an attractive approach, because in actual life we meet numerous constraints. We have to analyse the nature and variety of constraints and social life (technical, political, social, cultural, etc.) and to look systematically for opportunities for choice. But once we admit that we have choices which reach further than adaptation to the "inevitable march of technology," we are confronted with a compelling question: How do we decide on a specific course of action? Which standards should play a role in the decision-making processes? It is quite evident that, once we are confronted with opportunities to select from courses of action connected with the development and application of new technologies, human rights comes to the fore.

In order to indicate as clearly as possible the emerging ideas concerning choice, we give a schematic representation of the industrialist model of development that subsequently will be broken down into its component elements (fig. 1). This schematic representation, working downstream from the individual inventors, represents the industrial model of development that has been described above (pp. 18-20, 22-27). Basically, it is a simple model. As Ogburn expressed it 50 years ago:

Changes are started by one institution which impinges on others, and those on still others. . . in the past in many important cases a change occurred first in the technology, which changed the economic institutions, which in turn changed the social and governmental organizations which finally changed the social beliefs and philosophics.48

This series is presented as a mechanical, causal chain.

Let us start our analysis with the links between T and O (TL) and then proceed by working down- and upstream. At every step we will ask questions which deal with the impact of technology on human rights.

Since the end of the 1970s several empirical and theoretical studies, dealing with the development of new technologies and their application to industrial production and services, have been published. In them it is shown that specific new technologies, such as CNC machines, may be accompanied by quite different types of organizations. In those studies, often of an international comparative nature, it is shown that specific social consequences of the introduction of new technologies are not primarily contingent on the nature of the technology itself, but on the organizational conceptions of the interest groups that decide on the introduction and the nature of the application of the technologies. International comparative research has, moreover, demonstrated that the same technologies may have different social consequences in different countries, depending on both the nature of institutional arrangements existing between relevant interest groups and the educational system. Important studies in this area are those of Maurice, Sellier and Silvestre, Gallie, Lutz, Kerna and Schumann, Dore, Smith, and the theoretical analysis of Winner and Hirschhorn.49

Although it is made clear that technological development theoretically opens up new options for social development, the prevailing institutionalized power relationships may prevent them from being used in ways other than those prescribed by the restricted logic of technological rationalization. Nevertheless, research in this domain has demonstrated, according to a five-point summary by Grootings, that

(1) technology itself is designed and introduced by people who, in doing so, try to realize their own interests;

(2) a given technology leaves room for different alternative organizational solutions;

(3) these solutions are the result of social relations between people that are, however, not always and everywhere based on domination;

(4) social actors are socialized by their environment, which also shapes the nature of their social relations;

(5) the impact of technological change depends on the aims and goals of its introduction, under both capitalist and socialist conditions.50

From this it follows that technological changes have a predictable impact on working relationships and on the content of jobs only as long as the innovators' minds are imprisoned in the deterministic model of industrialism. In this respect the West seems to be at a disadvantage in comparison with non-Western nations. This is because the Enlightenment model of development logically implies a great divide within modern organizations between the technological and managerial elites on the one hand and the mass of the blue- and white-collar workers on the other. The first category of members of an organization see themselves confronted with the task of transferring their (rational) knowledge to the "uninformed" workers.

K. Matsushita of the Matsushita Electric Company in Japan made this point very clear when he addressed a group of Western managers a few years ago:

We are going to win and the industrial West is going to lose: there is nothing much you can do about it because the reasons for your failure are within yourself ... With your bosses doing the thinking, while the workers wield the screwdrivers, you are convinced deep down that this is the right way to run a business.51

Matsushita states, in reference to this Western model, that the survival of firms is very hazardous in an environment which is increasingly unpredictable, competitive, and fraught with danger. Their continued existence depends on the day-to-day mobilization of all human resources. Management is then considered to be the art of mobilizing and pulling together the intellectual resources of all employees in the service of a firm. This type of management is clearly reflected in the organization's structure. Unlike comparable Western companies, the Japanese companies tend to carry out research, development, and the design of manufacturing processes concurrently so that knowledge from one area can readily influence decisions made in other areas. A new concept moves back and forth among the different groups until it is perfected. In most Western companies these processes are sequential: once a department has completed its task it is handed over to the next department.52

This flexibility with respect to the establishment of links between technology, the organization's structure, and the content of jobs is a very important issue both for new industrializing countries and for the industrialized world, as it shows that there is room for human choice and for innovations in the domain of human interactions. It shows also that centralized planning and the application of models from above are not the right ways to handle organizational problems. The a priori rationality of the Enlightenment model is not the right way to change reality; innovations can only be really effective when they are solidly linked up with the experience of all workers.53

The point is, however, whether these opportunities for choice will be used only with the goals of efficiency and efficacy in mind, or whether other values will also come to the fore, such as opportunities to learn within teams, an increase in individual autonomy, "sustainable" growth, and participation in decision-making.

Much will depend on the awareness of opportunities to make choices when technological and organizational changes are drawing near. Looking at figure 1, this signifies that we must be able to dislodge the technological-imperial interpretation of the links between T. O. and TL. Furthermore, choices among alternatives must be assessed not only on the basis of efficiency and effectiveness, but also by reference to the relevant human rights. This again needs to be done not only in a defensive way so as to protect human dignity, but also in an affirmative manner, by referring to these rights as standards of achievement for the next period. The contribution of the human and social sciences can be critical in this domain, as they have the task, as can be deduced from our analysis of the Enlightenment model of development, to go upstream (see figure 1) and to analyse in a systematic way the actual choices that enter the development of S. T. and their interrelations. This analysis can pertain to the ways scientists manage, in their laboratories, for example, to win support for their interpretation of scientific problems. Certain groups of scientists, technologists, and clients (e.g. powerful segments of markets) have an important interest in specific research lines and research outcomes, as Latour demonstrated,54 and alliances could be made among them.

Moving upstream signifies also the analysis of the ways cultural values impinge on the links between S. T. O. and TR. Analysis of organizations in highly industrial countries shows that the inner workings of modern organizations are not only influenced by "'re-industrial" values, but are even dependent on behaviour that is based on such values. Recently Philippe d'lribarne showed that organizations with the same formal, "universalistic" structure and technological processes differed widely with respect to such variables as the nature of interaction between superiors and workers, discipline, and ways of handling social interactions between co-workers. He demonstrated that these differences were interrelated with differences in the cultural surroundings of these organizations.55 Going upstream also implies a continuation of analysis pertaining to the impact of social and political factors on the choice of specific scientific and technological trajectories and the exclusion of other possible lines of development.

It follows from what we have said that the more the social and human sciences go upstream and the more they are successful in demonstrating opportunities for choice in fact by systematically "deconstructing" the "overdeterministic" Enlightenment model of development - the less downstream activities can be considered as only adaptations to technological-organizational exigencies and the more room there will be for assessing and evaluating upstream activities with systematic reference to human rights. This implies early warning systems and debates concerning the risks that are connected with new types of R&D. It signifies the analysis of technological designs with reference to the context in which the technology will be used, as characteristics of a design may already block certain downstream choices. Moreover, it emphasizes the need for a systematic analysis of the diffusion of technological innovations within the industrialized world and the impact on the developing world of Western decisions to stop production of certain types of commodities, for example when non-sustainable production processes are transferred to these countries, or when products that are considered to be a hazard to health in Western countries, and as such are forbidden by Western governments to be sold on Western markets, are still available in developing countries.


Fig. 1. Schematic representation of the industrial model of development.

We stated earlier that the development of industrial systems is a transnational process. No "society" or "culture" in the world can escape the impact of this process. There is no way back. But it is important to keep in mind that the future is not determined in a mechanical way by forces that are totally out of control. The more we go upstream and look carefully at what is going on, the more we will discover opportunities to influence downstream development in a direction that implies an enhancement of the quality of life.