Cover Image
close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession II: Technology generation and transfer - Transformation alternatives
close this folderPhilosophy (concepts) of scientific and technological development
close this folderVladimir Slambuk
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. Development and underdevelopment
View the documentII. Definition of some basic terms
View the documentIII. Existing philosophies of scientific-technological development
View the documentIV. Self-reliance
View the documentBibliography

III. Existing philosophies of scientific-technological development

Different concepts of scientific and technological development have to be analysed from two viewpoints. The first is linked to the issue of how much those concepts which exist today actually contribute to the swift social development of the contemporary world, and especially toward its less developed sector. The second issue concerns the search for ways and means of using everything positive and beneficial to the development of humanity which exists already, or which is still in the sphere of imagination or intuition, thus marking the true beginning of the new era we are approaching - an era of true liberty, prosperity and welfare. That is, we should always take into account what is, without neglecting what can be.

It seems that we may conditionally talk of four concepts of scientific technological development which can be met in today's theory and practice. The classification is conditional and probably neglects a wealth of ideas and possibilities. It should only be used as the basis for critical reexamination of the existing roads of social development.

a. The first group of concepts and philosophical frameworks of analysis ultimately regards technology as the key which can solve all social contradictions. This view maintains that whenever some grave, apparently insurmountable social problems and contradictions become acute, new technological discoveries make it possible to maintain and extend the pace and volume of production. Oil price increases represent just one of the many attempts to redistribute wealth on the world scale; but developed capitalist countries were not prompted by the new situation to analyse whether there really was too much exploitation in their favour on the world scale. They seek solutions primarily in some new technological breakthroughs which would help them keep their monopolistic positions.

It seems that the concept of technological optimism is therefore unacceptable. This is not to say that the role of technology in the development of society should be denied or negatively evaluated. It is nevertheless beyond doubt that optimism of this kind is not realistic or historically justified. Furthermore, an optimism which postulates the magic power of scientific and technological solutions in many ways reflects the need of highly developed capitalist countries to use their dominating position in that field for the preservation and further extension of their monopolistic position in international economic, cultural, and even political relations. Insisting on such concepts is unlikely to contribute to solving the social problems facing the developing world.

Technological solutions alone cannot solve the problem of cultural development, the dilemmas which exist when the goals of social and economic development are to be defined, the problem of colonialism and neocolonialism, or the problem of democratic development and creation of political systems with democratic characteristics and the like. It is obvious that knowledge and skill cannot solve such burning issues of today's world by themselves; they have to be solved primarily by including broad masses of producers in the process, which masses should be the true masters of their own fate.

Technological optimism is largely elaborated through certain concepts which emerge within the framework of analysis and development of the consumer society, the welfare state, and the concept of post-industrial society. The most fervent advocates of this vision are most certainly multinational companies. The developing countries which have to fight MNCs in order to preserve their national, economic, and political integrity are well aware of the consequences of such a vision.

It is particularly difficult to talk of technology transfers. Depending on the concrete situation, on the goals of a particular society, and especially on the correct notion that better knowledge is always valuable, technology transfer is an activity which should be encouraged. On the other hand, excessive insistence on it implies viewing technology as the magic wand which can solve all issues. In some cases, the transfer may prove counter-productive and highly damaging to the society, for example when highly sophisticated technology is transferred to a pronouncedly agrarian society. The only party to gain in this case is the developed country - the exporter of technology.

Transfer of technology at all costs - often implying not only the transfer of hardware, but also that of software and even of the organization of production - is not a desirable concept. This is particularly apparent in the case of largely agrarian societies. In such societies, even advanced agricultural technology (which requires investments in energy, large holdings, and so on) is unacceptable if the structure of the society, its pattern of ownership, and its economic structure are not prepared for the new technology. The mode, the scope, and the content of the technology transfer which would have the most positive effect possible have not been devised yet - despite numerous discussions and international research projects. One thing is certain: an inadequate and excessive transfer of technology does not contribute to real progress. It is more likely to aggravate social conflicts within the given society and to extend the scope of domination and exploitation.

b. Another widespread view of the role of science and technology in the development of society is that which perceives technology as the negative factor of social development. This concept has numerous advocates in the developed world. They blame developed technology for many negative aspects of the capitalist world (pollution, stratification, overnourishment and undernourishment, excessive supply of consumer goods, and so forth). This approach, adopted by numerous theorists and public workers, is not a novelty. Its early proponents were humanists such as J. J. Rousseau at a time when capitalism was still young.

This concept is especially significant today, since it advocates abolishing certain technological processes which make large-scale mass production possible; a broad spectrum of social theories is being developed on that basis. Different concepts range from the "assessment of technology" to the notion that "small is beautiful." In other words, there is an element of nostalgic longing for the "good old times," and negative characteristics of technology in the developed world are thus exaggerated. Such negative effects of modern technology as can be found in the developed world, but also in developing countries as a consequence of random and inadequate technology transfers, lead these theorists to claim that technology is generally unacceptable to humanity as a whole.

Believing that the happiness and future of mankind can be realized in small communities, without any technological giants, such theorists try to "sell" their concept to the developing world, too. There are two reasons for this attempt. The first is to be found in a strong element of egoism, which could be found in western theories before, too, and which is now manifested in a different light. Until the crises of the early 1970s, very few of them had claimed that the development of technology could be socially damaging; the egoism of exploitation prevented them from taking such a view. Now, when elements of crisis exist, the majority of these same theorists want to stop the world at its present level of development; their motives are again egoistic. They are not worried that more than 3,000 million people have problems which can be solved only if further development of science and technology is combined with the introduction of appropriate social relations.

The second element motivating such a course is the desire to maintain the existing capitalist mode of production. Such concepts do not solve anything but the traumas of their creators. The tragedy is that the proponents of such theories see technology as the source of all evils, and not the continued existence of capitalist social relations.

c. The third view of science and technology is contained in the concept of intermediate technology. The essence of this concept is that the developed industrial world should continue producing new technology which should be not sophisticated but suited to the needs of the agrarian developing societies. Such societies need labour-intensive rather than capital-intensive technology. This concept is an applied form of the view that technological innovation can solve everything.

Intermediate technology is also called "appropriate technology.', Its salient points are as follows: low in capital costs, relies on local materials whenever possible, creates jobs, employs local skills and labour, small enough to be affordable by a small group of farmers, easily understood, controlled by people without a high level of western-style education, makes production in small metalworking shops possible, rests on the assumption that in most of the world important decisions are made by groups and not individuals, involves decentralized renewable resources, makes technology understandable to the people, flexible under changing circumstances, and does not involve patents, royalties, consulting fees, import duties, and so on.

This concept does not postulate at all that it is necessary to provide developing countries with such technology as would prove suitable to their conditions of socio-economic development. The existing pattern of social-class capital relations is implicitly regarded as universally acceptable, and only technology is regarded as unacceptable. All that is required is to replace the existing technology with its intermediate substitute, and the problem would be solved.

Like the concepts outlined earlier, this one also has some rational elements. The unacceptable element is that this concept does not question its own rationale. It does not ask what is the purpose of creating an alternative technology. Its goal is to correct and reform some elements within the given set of relations, without attempting to alter those relations in any fundamental way.