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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

Report on session I

Jam. A. Maraj

The initial consideration of the sub-theme was facilitated by the presentation of four position papers whose titles give some indication of the particular perspective from which each of the main speakers approached the matter.

Dr. Lefebvre in opening the proceedings concerned himself with what was necessary and what was possible in the transformation being contemplated. In the worldwide struggle taking place, although "knowledge" was only part of the overall problem, it was nevertheless a most significant part. A strategy for coping with knowledge on a world scale was urgently required, for the emergence of information science as a result of technological development now made it impossible for any specialist to grasp the complexity and the amount of information being processed and disseminated. Dr. Lefebvre also noted that by linking information processing to government channels which controlled financial resources, there was a tendency to emphasize consumption rather than production. The technology itself had little to do with how the information was processed and absorbed, and questions related to the production of information by whom and for whom were politically and ideologically determined rather than technologically.

Professor Tomovic argued that we had reached a turning point or the beginning of a new era. He wondered what universities could do. Referring to the definition of technology in his paper, he commented on the mystification of the relationship between science and technology and noted that very few powers could really develop technology from basic knowledge. Professor Tomovic felt that emphasizing technology often diverted attention from social problems. The development of particular technologies was essentially socially conditioned. He referred to destructive effects associated with mass production based on profit motives and claimed that the management of technology often depended on authoritarian attitudes. In his view, if social conditions favoured it, enough of the basic goods could be produced and technology could be used to solve urgent urban problems or improve the delivery of health care for the masses, for example. Professor Tomovic suggested that universities should start research on a critical history of technology and he wanted particular studies made of the interaction between specific technologies and their social consequences. He drew attention to the need for technology forecasting and assessment and the need for greater self-reliance to be promoted. In his view this self-reliance was not facilitated by transfers of techniques or educational systems whose goals required thorough reexamination.

Professor Pandeya reminded us that the focus of our concerns in considering science and technology as factors in transformation had to be seen in the context of a movement from domination to liberation. He accepted the contribution which two sciences could make, and had made, to development. Natural sciences (Sc. 1), which generate technology leading to productivity, and Sc. 2, humanistic and social sciences which were. at the core of a society's ideological apparatus, were taken as given. Professor Pandeya emphasized, however, that there was a third science which had to be utilized for revolutionizing existing structures in order to create the new order or new varieties of order which we seek. It was not reproduction of the order as known which science and technology should be used for; rather they should be revolutionizing agents. Relating this approach to cultural transformation, Professor Pandeya argued that there was a need to link scientific insights to "the physic impulses" of the people and that their cultural perspective should not be limited to a social. memory only, but be enhanced by a forward-looking element which could lead to a capacity for critical reflection. In his view, liberation will only be achieved when, on a large scale, the critical scientific insights of imaginative minds are shared by the people and become an integral part of their consciousness and cultural frame of reference.

Professor Yves Barel, commenting on his paper, "Scientific Paradigms and Human Self-determination," noted the following:

1. Science and technology, contrary to certain well-established beliefs, have certain negative side-effects on human self-determination, i.e. on the right and the power of the individual, the social groups, and, finally, the bulk of the population to decide about their actions, to make sense of them, and to determine their objectives.

2. These negative side-effects are particularly significant in three fields:

- the autonomization of technical systems, which means the autonomy of the machinery vis-is the immediate human operator;

- the displacement of labour know-how, the real qualification of workers, by algorithms which become foreign to these workers;

- the development of new forms of social control founded on the diffusion of "scientific" and rationalizing norms in multidirectional domains: private life sexuality, family life, education of children, nourishment methods, etc.

3. This influence of science and technology is not only a problem of the social misuse of their results, but also a problem of inner methodological and epistemological orientations. These orientations, in turn, are themselves partly a social problem.

4. Reorienting the techno-scientific direction implies a new sort of compromise between the two dominant paradigms - the mechanistic paradigm and the "structural" or "dialectic" paradigm - which does not give priority to the mechanization of structure, particularly human and social structures. The real problem which this raises is the problem of re-examining the present imbalance of power.


Professor Macura noted that while ethical, philosophical factors were important, economic factors were no less so. Quoting figures related to the gap between developed and developing countries, he felt that technology was the instrument to assist in its reduction. Focusing on the employment problem faced by most countries he noted that appropriate technology had to be seriously considered.

The new technology must advance egalitarianism, save energy, and conserve natural resources; it should be inexpensive and labour-intensive, but productive. China had demonstrated its feasibility. The question now was whether China could continue in this way and in what specific dimensions alternatives would be essential.

Dr. Holland reminded us that we were at the end of a long phase of development. He noted the distinction between process and product innovations, the former resulting in the displacement of labour which is no longer absorbed and compensated for by growth in the latter.

It was important to recall how people view the world. For example, work is regarded as a good thing per se. Some of these values may have to be altered and if technology could not produce more jobs, as seemed to be the case, could it be used to assist in coping with new life patterns, e.g., wiser use of leisure.

Looking at S & T on a wider perspective, perhaps biological planning, availability of nuclear energy, etc., could in due course also be major factors in the transformation.

Professor Pandeya observed that the economic gap was not the whole story. The science-knowledge industry had grown to such proportions that it was now over 30:1 in favour of the industrialized nations. The notion that low-level technology is good enough for the Third World was totally unacceptable in his view.

Rector Pecujlic noted that the problem was essentially one of individual norms of behaviour versus the collective conditions of the system. He felt that it was only out of a social struggle that technological innovation could really be born.

Professor Le Thanh Khoi observed that science and technology are a part of culture as envisaged in its largest meaning, and should be examined in this context. Culture could be a liberation as well as a domination. There was no political and economic independence without a cultural independence. In his view culture comprised four main elements: education; science and technology; "culture in its restrictive senses"; and communication.

1. Education. Its development is usually measured by quantitative indicators (rates of enrollment, number of students per 10,000 inhabitants, percentage of GNP devoted to education, etc.). The real question is what is education for and for whom. Is education a reflection of its own culture or of foreign culture(s), does it use national language(s), what are the social origins of those students who arrive at the university and get the diplomas enabling them to obtain the best positions while others are condemned to manual occupations or to unemployment?

2. Science and technology. These, likewise, should be examined not only from the quantitative point of view (number of scientists and engineers per 10,000 inhabitants, budget, etc.), but particularly from the point of view of the policy followed by national authorities, which in turn is composed of three elements:

- The production of knowledge: what kind of knowledge is or is not produced in the country, by whom (expatriate or national scientists)? Does this production take into account the real conditions of the country?

- The diffusion of knowledge: is it restricted to the elite or widely communicated to the population, so that they can apply it to production?

- The application of knowledge: there may be knowledge, but it is not applied for what reasons? These may be political, social, or economic reasons, e.g. pressures from transnational corporations.

3. Culture (in its restricted sense). Colonialism had persuaded the colonized peoples that they had no culture, or a culture vastly inferior to European culture. This situation has not disappeared in many countries, where the leaders are not mentally liberated. Only an authentic culture can give meaning to the development process. It is by being oneself that a people can participate in the dialogue of cultures and civilizations. But this "return to roots" should eliminate the negative aspects of traditional cultures and not be closed to foreign influences.

4. Communication. The mass media have become a powerful instrument of manipulating international opinion and sometimes destabilizing governments. At present, 65 per cent of world information is produced in and diffused from the United States. Many countries content themselves to reproduce messages from the big Western press agencies without analyzing their ideological contents. Information is at the same time conditioning. The message is in fact "massage" of the minds, destined to contribute to the reproduction of the existing international order.

Dr. Stambuk in his intervention asked whether the problem should be viewed as requiring a change in society rather than changes in technology even when consideration had been given to the alternative forms available.

Professor Macura referring both to Pandit Nehru and President Carter asked what the options were to his earlier proposals, if these proposals were not acceptable.

Professor Mushakoji then made the following observations before the session was concluded:

1. Science did not only feed into technology, but also received from technological developments new knowledge and insights.

2. Decentralization, which was desirable, had itself been assisted by technological developments, especially in such areas as micro-processors.

3. The need for collective self-reliance by the Third World countries should be recognized and acted upon as it could lead to changing the bases of power. In this connection the intellectual stimulus would have to come from universities.

In the discussion workshop, participants having satisfied themselves that the summary record of the plenary sessions was fair, then moved to a more detailed consideration of underlying themes. It was agreed that the discussions should lead to a sharpening of the differences which had emerged and the following positions were arrived at:

(a) There was need for a much more vigorous examination of the relationship between the way a technology was applied, the technology itself, and the basic science from which it grew.

(b) In pursuing the examination, attention should be focused on the role of technology as a factor in the social, economic, and cultural aspects taken individually and cumulatively. The interaction between the various aspects should also be closely observed as well as such matters as, Is the problem the technology itself or its management, or the resource base? etc.

(c) It was particularly important to re-examine these relationships as we are entering a new era following the current world crisis.

(d) Technology was not an end in itself. It was preconditioned by social goals and these goals needed to be clearly articulated. In particular, the human factor had to be emphasized, not only from the standpoint of the individual but also from that of the social group as we strive towards egalitarianism in terms of equality of opportunity. The search for a fraternal convivial society should recognize both cultural identity and diversity.

(e) In accepting the proposition that science and technology were socially conditioned, it was thought that it would be useful to study the application of various specific technologies to determine whether the goals being pursued were in fact being achieved or whether the technologies imposed by wrong motivations themselves altered the character and the nature of the technology.

(f) While recognizing that various dilemmas would have to be confronted, it was thought that some of these could be made less difficult to cope with, if clearly defined social criteria could be stated and adequate methods agreed upon for assessing and forecasting technologies.

(g) It was noted that while science had to a large extent been decentralized, this was not so with technological development. The latter was still heavily monopolized by a few powers.

(h) The link between technological development proceeding from a scientific base was seriously questioned and several reasons given for the non-automatic emergence of technological development even where a strong science base existed.

(i) It was concluded that the various parameters of the social field had to be carefully examined before deciding on technology development or adaptation and that the entire social system itself would be the determinant of the extent to which technological development would succeed in effective transformation.