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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession IV: The control of space and power
close this folderToward a clearer definition of the role of science and technology in transformation
close this folderOsama A. El-Kholy
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. A view of the problem from within
View the documentII. The view from without
View the documentIII. Toward a clearer definition of the role of science and technology in transformation
View the documentAppendix I.
View the documentAppendix II.
View the documentAppendix III.
View the documentNotes


It is gratifying to note that, while the project "Socio-cultural Development Alternatives in a Changing World" is fundamentally one of comparative evaluative analyses, it takes this to mean that "we ought to take action, as of now, so as to be able to devote a meaningful part of our scientific activities... to this major aspect of the project.''1 The focusing of our concern on science and technology, within this project which encompasses "all fields and sectors, in all visions, cultures and societal formations of our times," comes after more than two years of intensive and worldwide discussions in many parts of the world and within a considerable variety of organizational frameworks - including academic circles - in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD), held in Vienna barely two months ago.

We will recollect that UNCSTD was planned within the framework of ongoing efforts to establish a new international economic order. Since the call for such an order was first sounded in 1974, we have come to realize that what is at stake is not just the "economic" order, for we are now used to talking of a new "scientific and technological" order, a new "information" order... etc.

It is felt that practically all the important issues relevant to our theme have been discussed in preparing for, and during, UNCSTD. Many profound analyses of the current situation of science and technology have been made from a great number of perspectives, points of emphasis, and ideological stands. There is probably not much to add at least for some time to come - to this truly global effort. In fact, what is needed is an exercise in analysis and assimilation of all this effort and a distillation of the essence of wisdom in it. It is natural that this work has been of an analytic and diagnostic nature. We do not ignore here the very detailed plan of action recommended by the conference. Nevertheless, we all realize that implementing this plan might well be considered a dream, or at least that the process of programming for such implementation is far from being clear and that it will be several years before any significant part of this plan becomes a reality of any appreciable impact in contributing to the transformation of the world by means of science and technology.

With such considerations in mind, I decided to give this paper a prescriptive - rather than a diagnostic - slant. I endeavour to propose a course of action, within the scientific and academic domain of the United Nations University, based on work that has been going on in the Arab region for almost two years now2 and which is thought to be of relevance to the global scene. Encouragement to embark on this course stems from guidelines for our seminar which deem it essential - if the world is to become a human community - "to have a pluralism of cultures and their mutual enrichment," so that "interdependence may be a road to mutual enrichment and not an impersonalization, a halting of civilizational development."

The starting point of this research programme was the realization that the role of science and technology in bringing about significant changes in society has been considered - until quite recently - as a "technical" problem that is dealt with mainly by professional scientists and technologists. It is true that social scientists mainly economists and some sociologists - have become increasingly aware, as a result of the disappointing outcome of development effort, of the crucial role of science - and technology in particular - in this serious failure. As a rather drastic oversimplification, we might say, however, that the social scientists are not well-versed in scientific technological practices, while the scientists and technologists are still rather insensitive to the socio-political implications of their activities, and even to the full extent of their economic consequences. There is an obvious need for an interdisciplinary effort that would assimilate past experiences, diagnose the present situation, and look further into the future and the courses of action leading to achieving desirable transformations.

We will not dwell here on the results concerning analysis of past experiences3 since these conform more or less with those that have come to be recognized as typical of Third World experience over the last 30 years or so.

It would, however, be worthwhile to elaborate on certain important elements in the characterization of the present situation as specified in the study, even at the risk of being repetitive.