Synthesis: moving beyond uncritical approaches to biotechnology development in LDCs
The stakes in technology development in, or for less developed countries are high. Treating technology development as a process with important social and political dimensions, we have raised the question whether more attention should be paid to the ability of technologies to redefine social roles and relations. Concretely, theoretical discussions about the nature of technological development and its relation to social and political relations have led to a discussion of possibilities for reconstruction and a rethinking of participatory methodologies in development programmes.
While several approaches to participation and increasing innovation capacities may be legitimate in different situations, in this paper an explicit argument has been set up to consider a fundamental reconstruction of technologies that does not only address the technical level, but also reconfigures political aspects of technologies. This involves both acknowledging and challenging the political dimensions in technology development. However, highlighting these social and political dimensions of technology development does not mean that negotiations at the level of the technical object have become obsolete. On the contrary, acknowledging the political elements as part of the technical code of technological objects is part of opening the black box of agricultural biotechnologies. Challenging these dimensions, inscribing technologies with a different technical code, and reconstructing them to fit local needs and circumstances can explicitly and particularly take place at object level. The challenge is all about taking up the sub-political dimensions of technology development and using them to develop biotechnologies as part of processes of endogenous development.
Achieving such a sub-political technology development requires a further elaboration and refinement of methodologies of participation, as they are considered indispensable in taking up the proposed sub-political technology development. In practice, this means that a number of new and additional research questions needs to be asked. Of course questions regarding priorities and the technical appropriateness of technologies in certain contexts are still necessary and legitimate. But they should be complemented with questions about how technology is conceptualized in various development programmes and what the consequences are for the involvement of stakeholders in technology development. Will a conceptualization of technologies as socio-technical ensembles allow a different involvement of stakeholders in which they are not only involved in phases of priority setting and evaluation, but are actively involved in an iterative process of technology design? Can a conceptualization of technologies as political phenomena gather momentum to create room for manoeuvre to develop alternative trajectories of biotechnology and genomics developments? Can these conceptualizations of technologies ensure that values in technology development are the central point of focus, rather than procedures and formal structures?
Asking these additional questions in effect implies an infusion of a critical dimension into current and commonly applied frameworks in technology development. Finding answers to these questions may provide the room for manoeuvre needed to develop, reveal, or even to simply recognize alternative trajectories to biotechnology and genomics development. Such approaches to agricultural development would treat technology development as inherently social process and may include values such as autonomy, independence and long term sustainable development.
Lifting the veil of an ideology of technical rationality shows the presence of social choices, prevalent in any technological development process. Tensions or contradictions in current development processes can provide momentum to making other choices. That way, the sub-political element that is so pervasive in technology development, is no longer an unpleasant side-effect, but can be taken up as a new arena of political struggle and the formation of new identities.