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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession I: Science and technology as formative factors of contemporary civilization - from domination to liberation
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View the documentIntroduction
View the documentReport on session I
Open this folder and view contentsTechnology and society
Open this folder and view contentsParadigmes scientifiques et auto-détermination humaine
Open this folder and view contentsScience and the making of contemporary civilization


Gregory BIue

The five position papers presented to this session and the ensuing discussion developed the theme from different points of view, but it seems that each intervention sought to focus attention on the same basic questions, namely: Science and technology for whom? For whose benefit? At whose serviced In addition, special attention was paid to debunking various forms of scientism and technological determinism. It was first of all pointed out that science and technology are the results of historically determined social activity. Dr. Tomovic reviewed the development of modern technology since the Industrial Revolution and considered the implications of a heritage dominated by mass production, profit optimization, hierarchical forms of management, and the abuse of natural resources. Dr. Leite Lopes extended this historical analysis in order to situate the scientific and technological dependence of the Latin American countries; and Dr. Le Thanh Khoi related specific mechanisms of scientific and technical dependence to other aspects of the cultural domination to which Third World countries are subjected. Henri Lefebvre stressed the continuing pre-eminence of the world market in shaping scientific and technological as well as political objectives and, drawing on the example of the informational sciences, considered ways in which the development of new fields of knowledge is a scene of sharp social struggle. Dr. Pandeya (whose paper we have not been able to include in this volume) in turn pointed out that in the Third World both the natural and the social sciences can flourish only if the scientists are bound closely to the people and serve the interests of the people. Dr. Barel developed these problems theoretically, working from a view of the mutual interpenetration of science and society; he distinguished two necessarily complementary types of rationality, namely, the mechanistic and the dialectical, and he spoke of the dangers inherent in pushing along with the first while neglecting the second, since human liberation requires that the dialectical (or structural) method must take the leading role. According to Dr. Lefebvre, on the other hand, scientific truth extends rather than dilates the scope of human responsibility, and it therefore necessitates critical political struggle for differences at all levels. Drs. Pandoya and Leite Lopes emphasized that only political struggles could determine whether science and technology would play a specifically liberating role for the majority of the people in the world; and Dr. Leite Lopes in particular noted that the goal of advancing science itself gives Third World scientists an integral role in participating in such struggles. Finally, Dr. Tomovic spoke concretely about ways and means of breaking out of contemporary technological impasses and of creating better facilities for solving individual and social problems.

One of the points of conflict throughout the conference, especially in the early sessions, concerned the question of "appropriate technology." Starting off the discussion, Dr. Macura argued that the technology necessary to meet the growing needs of the population of the Third World must be appropriate, in the sense of being inexpensive, labour-intensive, energy-saving, and egalitarian in terms of providing employment opportunities and the satisfaction of basic needs. Dr. Holland spoke of the dangers of technological unemployment and noted that technological innovation is often an aspect of heightening international competition. Dr. Pandaya, on the other hand, objected strongly to the notion of appropriate technology on the grounds that what is advertised as "appropriate" for Third World countries is in fact often obsolete for the industrialized nations, and he said that implementation of such technology is in fact a recipe for continual dependence and underdevelopment. Dr. Stambuk agreed with this and felt that problems concerning the development of science and technology as well as those concerning unemployment would properly have to be viewed within the more general context of changes in society as a whole. Finally, Dr. Pecujlic was of the opinion that "alternative" technologies which take into account both productivity and human well-being can be born only from social struggle and not from catchy slogans. Unfortunately, Dr. Leite Lopes was unable to attend the conference, but the last section of his paper should be consulted for his own cogent criticism of the strategy of "appropriate technology."

Stuart Holland, Le Thanh Khoi, Milos Macura, and A.N. Pandeya took part in the discussion.