| Appropriate Technology in Post - Modern Times |
|PART II Diversity is strength|
Schumacher's and the AT movement's insistence that all analysis and activities be centered on people is a cultural approach to development. Culture embraces all aspects of life: know-how, technical knowledge, clothing and eating habits, religion, mentalities, values, language, symbols, socio-political and economic behaviour, ways of reaching decisions and yielding power, modes of production, and more. Contrary to most development strategies, which focus on material and quantifiable aspects or on socio-political features, the cultural approach addresses reality in a holistic and dynamic way. Holistic, because culture embraces all aspects of life; and dynamic because culture changes in accordance with people's needs and external influences.
The most far-reaching form of Western dominance is not that of transnational corporations, governments, capitalist or socialist ideologies - it is cultural hegemony. Never before has one culture dominated over all others as comprehensively, intensively and monolithically as today. Never before have processes of acculturation been forced on people with the same speed and universality: the evolution of Jazz as a blend of different musical traditions took ages if compared to the time in which Disco Music conquered the world - not to mention the very different musical and communicative qualities of those phenomena, which seem to be inversely proportional to their aggressiveness.
Development strategies may unilaterally propagate material growth and modernization; or they may aim at a global liberation process. The first type dominates in big agencies and bureaucracies; the second is the somewhat vague common ground of progressive governments, agencies and NGOs. But even this second version largely adheres to a mono-cultural development concept. In neither of the dominant development concepts has culture been assigned its proper place; most probably so because it has usually been perceived far too narrowly as a collection of objects, as 'background', or as a secondary pastime. Cultural aspects cannot and should not replace economic, social and political aspects, but neither can they be ignored. Culture is needed to complement, complete, and indeed often correct the economic, social and political analyses. It can certainly not be disconnected from politics: distinctions will eventually have to be made between the dominant culture and the dominated ones.
'Developers' of all kinds have caused extensive destruction by imposing the mainstream monoculture: 'civilizing' missions have wiped out oral traditions; economic development strategies have destroyed non-monetary cultures; national sovereignty and nationalism have tilted the balance between societies and states in favour of the latter. Even "progressive" interventions in favour of democracy and human rights have produced negative effects by undermining principles of consensus-oriented politics and replacing traditional non-individualistic systems of justice and law.
'Development' is a very ambiguous concept. On one hand it contains the West's positive achievements; a wealth of knowledge that can be used for a variety of purposes, in many societes and with many humanitarian applications. On the other hand, it carries with it the bias of Western materialism and threatens to undermine cultural diversity and self-determination. Numerous examples from the present development discourse demonstrate that this threat is real. The term 'informal sector' portrays little appreciation of local autonomy and diversity but suggests further "economic colonization" of the spheres in which large numbers of people survive. 'Sustainable development' refers more often to the reconciliation of economic growth with 'environmental security' than to sustaining poor people's own development. This comes along with a trend towards a "global ecocracy" of capital, bureaucracy and science; which means continued predominance of Western economic interests, but with more central control.
The development paradigm is often criticized as the ideological core of Western economic, political and cultural predominance.
Delusion and disappointment, failures and crimes have been steady con,panions of development and they tell a common story: it did not work. Moreover, the historical conditions which catapulted the idea into prominence have vanished: development has become outdated. But above all, the hopes and desires which made the idea fly, are now exhausted: development has grown obsolete.
The rejection of the very idea of development usually shares with the AT approach a preference for diversity and local autonomy. The practical conclusions are, however, quite different: the proponents of AT do not agree to abstain from all further aid interventions, as implied or demanded by the critics of the 'aid industry'. There is an important difference between development and aid - the difference between ideology and practice. To what extent aid promotes or retards development and allows alternative options, could be debated endlessly. But the early Nineties are not an appropriate period to suggest abandoning humanitarian-motivated aid, or better cooperation. While the "belief in the powers of the market to solve the world's development problems is fading away, the development idea is increasingly replaced by strong trends towards political, economic and environmental crisis management. This implies in practice more forceful and authoritarian interventions, including military action as a regular means of safeguarding Western interests. Economic domination, political paternalism and cultural imperialism will not cease to exist, but will cause greater damage, if not counterbalanced in practice.
However sceptical they are towards the development paradigm, the critics agree that non-Western, non-economic and non-technicist alternatives need to be developed, based on cultural diversity.
Any viable alternative to our current market developmentalism should be based on a drastic reconsideration of our cultural values. Traditionally, in all societies, trading and technological activities were both strictly regulated and subjected to symbolic constraints. With development, all of these religious and spiritual limits are progressively removed. The end result, as is well demonstrated by contemporary Western societies, is a hypertrophic economic order, a subordinated political domain, and an indefinable social sphere of only residual significance.
The challenge is to develop culturally and environmentally sensitive forms of cooperation. Development must be made to respect cultural diversity; to allow people to choose and define their own objectives. It is culture that gives human activity and technology its direction and meaning development is tbroughout a cultural process.
Culture is an optimistic option. The failure of countless projects due to people's culturally motivated resistance is not easily accepted as a "success story". Nonetheless, it does demonstrate that Westernization is not the inevitable fate of the South. Traditional value systems persist under the surface of "modernization" and are often the cause of its failure. But when destruction reaches the inner core of a culture, the result is loss of identity and apathy - damage rather than development. Cultural identity is the base of all self-reliance. Preserving this identity will in many cases call for supporting rather than overcoming cultural resistance to "modernization".
Stressing positive aspects of traditional societies such as non-materialistic value systems does not mean idealizing poverty. It means recognizing the reality of those societies as complex, different, and often full of wisdom the West is desperately lacking. Knowing how to live with poverty is a strength of many traditional societies; one upon which their survival and their capacity for autonomous development is built. This strength is easily ignored by those with an economically conditioned perception: "Poverty is a concept which one learns". If external interventions are based on the assumption that poverty equals passivity, they will undermine rather than strengthen self-reliance. The only way to avoid this danger is to insist that people determine their own affairs.
Some Working Group Results
The working group on Lifestyles, Resources and Environment compiled a variety of examples of living cultures that are very different from Western consumption-oriented civilization. Many statements expressed great concern over the damage that is done to family and community structures at the social micro-level in non-Western societies. "In Thailand we live three generations together, we learn about life together, we learn how to learn, we learn how to deal with ourselves and nature. What happens when this breaks up?"
On the other hand, the negative implications of traditional cultures and social structures for social equity were also mentioned: "In India family tradition can hamper wealth sharing.''15 Furthermore, it was well recognized that existing structures are changed by external influence, often through the "subversive" effects of foreign technologies, consumer goods and cultural messages imported into traditional settings.
There is a growing consensus that AT has to be a very broad concept; its objective of working with and for the poor implies the need to face environmental challenges as well as those of human welfare. It is the socio-cultural and the environmental context that ultimately determines 'appropriateness'. And it is the process of human-cantered cooperation that leads AT to change and grow during application.
Knowledge receives particular emphasis in the AT philosophy. One working group described AT as the science of the particular. While strengthening the general scientific base, it also has to accept the sceptical and the non-glamorous. It must focus on the extreme and on the common. This is reflected in its respect for traditional knowledge; it combines formal scientific with non-formal popular knowledge.
Respecting the knowledge and autonomous action of the people as the subjects (not "target groups") of development has important practical implications: "People's development has its own rhythm, hence AT shall oppose any tendency to be locked into the scopes, objectives and time-frarnes of projects." Ways must be found to blend these rhythms with the urgent need for efficient resource utilization in the face of looming worldwide ecological threats. Included among AT's response to the ecological challenge is the concept of technology mix, allowing to blend the most "modern" technologies with traditional ones.
AT's notion of highly environment-specific technological learning is in some ways opposed to the acquisition of technology from outside sources. The demand that "we must learn to see our Sociotechnical-ecological system in a wider perspective, the perspective of politics", combined with the realization that "small farmers do not easily see the effect of outside forces on their life and work we must help them to become more resilient to destructive outside forces", reflects great caution towards technology transfer because of concerns that the users may not be able to assess and control the effects of an alien technology.
At the other end of the spectrum, proponents of technology transfer argued that "technology can be acquired, developing it from scratch is not needed in most cases - AT groups must increasingly use one another's skills and experience." Insofar as this statement points to the advantages of South-South exchange and of cooperation within the AT movement, its pragmatic content (don't re-invent the wheel!) is well appreciated. Pragmatism should, however, not go so far as to draw the attention away from the dangers of implanting alien technologies.
A similar difference in basic philosophies is evident in the various approaches to technology assessment. It was generally agreed that technology assessment is a necessary and natural component of AT. But while some participants stressed that AT needs to use scientific instruments like simulation programs to forecast the effects of technology applications, others rejected the belief in complete information as a myth, a trap into which Western science often falls. The great gap between those two attitudes towards technology assessment systems is due to very different ideas of the role of science in human life. Once again, as in many other ideology-loaded controversies, AT's genuine position seems to be the practice-oriented and experience-based middle: "The more we know about the impact of technology the better we are equipped to promote the beneficial. Technology assessment is a necessary skill for every community on earth - AT can help to develop this capacity." Knowing about the impact of technology is the very essence of AT. This knowledge results from experience gained in applying science while accomodating cultural biases and limits.
"Development" as a term and an ideology incorporates Western cultural biases which often lead to negative economic, cultural and ecological outcomes. "Development - the social experiment of the 20tb century - cannot go on, nor can the world population ever join this experiment. Development has increasingly become Westernization - that period should and will come to an end." The new Western religion and missionary message has not yet succeeded in eradicating the world's social and cultural diversity. But the impact of the last 50 years has become progressively more intense because the message has been carried by an ever tighter network of mass media. What people do or don't do in remote villages or urban slums is increasingly influenced by alien concepts.
But rejecting the notion of development altogether would mean turning a blind eye to reality. What AT can do is to work for and with a pluralistic development concept that meets a wide range of needs, requirements, and values in different communities. "Every country will have to find its own way to produce according to its capacities and resources" and according to its people's values, needs, and visions of the future. This requires that AT must emphasize innovative and flexible approaches to technology development and dissemination and overcome internal biases such as its gender blindness.
The working group on Cultural Issues, "Development" and AT Philosophy summed up its deliberations in a core statement:
In emphasizing 'learning to live with differences', AT is a post-modern concept. The question 'interfere or not interfere' and the type and depth of outside intervention will always have to be faced very consciously. While being based on solid science, AT shall also respect non-formalized popular knowledge and create links between the two spheres which strengthen rather than impair 'the cultural immune system' of societies. It includes an aesthetic dimension and a dimension of freedom. Depending on the totality of circumstances under which communities live, AT needs to walk on many legs: technological, economic, political, educational, environmental.
The working group pointed out that "paradoxes and contradictions are a fact of life in the postmodern world". Rather than looking at them, and on culture in general, as barriers to smooth progress, the AT movement should derive strength from learning to live with diversity as the basis for development and human survival.