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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

III. Toward a clearer definition of the role of science and technology in transformation

The last decade witnessed an increasing interest in prospective studies under the influence of the threats of global problems such as food and energy shortages, discrepancies in growth and income in different parts of the world, and environmental deterioration. Experience with these studies has emphasized the suitability of the regional approach. Within the Arab region, studies were carried out both on a sectoral basis (population, food, industry, energy, and so on) and for the prospects of economic development. In almost all of these studies a view of the role of S e T in development is tacitly assumed.

Appendix 1 outlines a multidisciplinary and systematic approach for understanding and influencing the processes of transformation and, hence, for a clearer definition of the role science and technology should play in bringing about a basic transformation that would permit realization of the objectives referred to in the previous sections.11

This rests on five basic considerations:

1. The search for complementarities and bridges that are acceptable to the parties concerned.

2. An alertness to the pitfalls of attempting to bridge unbridgeable gaps, that is, an insistence on internal consistency of the options presented - a requirement that is sadly absent now in a good deal of loose thinking and some romantic proposals for directing transformation.

3. An awareness of the realities of the world in which we live and of the political situation.

4. An insistence on maintaining our cultural identity and heritage, which is thought to have positive value in bringing about a desirable transformation.

5. A specific concern with the role of S e T in transformation perhaps with more emphasis on the latter. Another consideration is that in the majority of cases there is an obvious shortage of data and information on many decisive issues. Particularly absent are an accurate assessment of the scientific technological potential (now and in the future), a clear definition of the existing and possible future relations between science, technology, and production, as the three basic elements of the technology sub-system, and the other elements of the overall socioeconomic system, as well as its interactions with the rest of the world (the flow of ideas, values, scientific knowledge, technological know-how, end the influx of foreign capital, goods, and services).12

Apart from this serious lack of specific and reliable information on basic issues and our still inadequate knowledge of the operation and mechanisms of the complex socio-economic political systems (p. 270), there also is the lack of a clear definition of social objectives and development patterns. Under such circumstances, a scientific effort to help map the future must consider more than one alternative (or scenario) and ensure that these are at least internally consistent and possible13 - two conditions that are often lacking in emotional and loose thinking about the future. Specifying a limited number of consistent and probable scenarios, rasher than cumbersome models that call for a multitude of non-existent data, will thus reduce the amount of information called for and leave the choice of a clear stand on the multitude of issues and questions involved, which form a societal policy decision, to a later stage when internal contradictions have been removed.

It is needless to emphasize here that all this hinges on a theory of the sequence of development stages, and the international division of labour, so as to ensure the consistency of social and economic factors as well as of the conditions inherent in the scenarios. Such theories exist and differ appreciably. They generally fall between two opposing views. Stated in very general terms, the first sees the problem as one of backwardness, primitiveness of economic structures, and low return of labour. This leads straight to adoption of technological solutions concerned with the importation of modern technology compatible with cultural development in the West and hence to adoption of the West's consumption patterns. It then concentrates on favourable contractual conditions or optimum adaptation procedures. The other sees the historical development of colonialism, subordination, monopolistic practices, and economic penetration as the cause of the alienation of human labour from the technological environment. The economic structures that were originally dedicated to satisfying the needs of the citizenry have been distorted to comply with production and consumption needs from without and to operate to the advantage of the stronger colonialist power. This prompts the search for technological solutions that would end this alienation through a new economic structure capable of satisfying, first, the basic needs of the whole population.

Once more, we see that the role of S e T in transformation depends on objectives for the future, the definition of which has to be guided by a theory and a concept of development. Three basic scenarios, each representing an integrated and consistent alternative, were chosen as indicators of the overall picture of the socio-economic system and from which, or from combinations of which, a clear definition of the role and content of technological activity can be deduced as society moves from one to the other.

1. The "consumer" society. This adopts a cultural and consumption pattern derived from the "western" model, and in it technology is imported according to the criteria of commercial profitability of certain groups in society. A primitive economic structure would still prevail, as well as the phenomena of the "extended" family and the weak local market. Some improvement in living standards could be achieved by exporting raw materials and primary goods based on production processes involving a rather low level of division of labour.

2. The "productive" society. In this the cultural and consumption pattern is the same as before, but technology imports are based on appropriate choices, efficient operation, and successful adaptation. The economic structure is now more varied and improvements in living standards come from a higher level of division of labour. Dualism of the economy, rapid expansion of the local market, and closer links with "superior" industrialized societies are now common.

3. The "pioneering" society. This is characterized by an independent cultural and consumption pattern. In it, technology is the natural environment for human effort or the production technique necessary for a "productive" society and an economic structure that meets the demands of the people.

I illustrate these ideas through an example of a hypothetical development for the Arab region through these and an intermediate scenario of collective self-reliance. This is graphically represented in Figure 1, and is based on the original premises (p. 281) of complementarily, consistency, political realities, and maintenance of cultural identity. In each one of the phases depicted it should be possible to deduce specific tasks for S e T.

In conclusion, I should address myself to a seemingly glaring contradiction in this presentation. I have characterized the current view of science in society as bigoted and oppressive (p. 275). Obviously none of these seemingly attractive scenarios for transformation would come about in such a social climate. However, hope for the future lies in a rebirth of the original attitude of the culture of the region toward science. After all, the scientific method as we know it today is a product of our cultural heritage, closely intertwined with a religion that clearly recognized the universe around us as a source of knowledge and which exhorted people to seek knowledge even in China.

One might well think that the road to desirable transformation is an assimilation of our cultural heritage on a new - or is it an old level.

FIG. 1. A Hypothetical Example (Arab Region)

Oil-Producing Countries

Non-Oil-Producing Countries


Developed Structure

Primitive Structure

Low Population Density

High Population Density


Avoid falling into more dependence

Concentrate on production of food


Regional co-operation to solve food shortages avoid remaining a consumer, non-productive economy

Curb consumption in favour of production


Avoid dangers of exhaustion of oil reserves- reduce dependence on oil revenues to raise standard of living- create advanced structures in basic industries

Develop human resources


Collective regional action to create consolidated productive societies co-ordinating production factors and developing trade within the region

First steps toward achieving pioneering societies based on indigenous technology under an independent cultural pattern in co-ordination with the outside world on just terms