Emerging neoperipheral structures and gardening policies
University Research Council, Universidad de la República, Ur
Faculty of Sciences, Universidad de la República, Uruguay
Last modified: June 3, 2004
Emerging neoperipheral structures and gardening policies
J.Sutz and R. Arocena
Universidad de la República, Uruguay
This paper is part of an ongoing contribution to the book planned by the SUDESCA project. Its aims are twofold. Firstly, it explores some factors that count as partial explanations for the inability of science, technology and innovation theories and policies to redress contemporary underdevelopment. Secondly, it presents some ideas around social innovations that could help to redress that inability.
The paper has five sections. The first one deals with facts and trends of contemporary underdevelopment, mainly viewed from a Latin American standpoint. The second one explores why the golden triple ring of progress (science, technology and innovation) has been so below expectations regarding underdevelopment. The third one discusses the idea that innovation and development (not equated to economic growth but akin to Sen’s concept of development as freedom) are often related through a linear model of events, which is as misleading as the linear model of innovation in terms of understanding the interrelation of both processes. The fourth suggests that not all the conceptualisations of innovation are equally useful for the design of policies in underdeveloped countries and, moreover, that part of the failures of innovation policies to improve the underdeveloped condition is related to the inadequacy of the concept of innovation used. Finally, section five presents some ideas to ''empower common people'' in relation to science, technology and innovation, mainly related to the orientation of the academic research agendas, the design of policies ''from below'' as well as inspired by gardening activities. A short outlook of those sections follows.
One of the main indicators of the failure of the development process in Latin America is the evolution of poverty: between 1982 and 1994 the number of people living with less than 2 dollars a day doubled, from 75 millions to 150 millions. Another indicator is the evolution of the productive structures, particularly those related to exports, which shows a consistent weakening of local knowledge participation. Globalization, on the other hand, does not seem to have fostered the development of the upper part of the innovative chain, re-creating, on the contrary, like in the XIX century, when industrialization rose, a neo-peripheral insertion of the region in the world economy. Hard facts of underdevelopment in Latin America look specially paradoxical, because the region as a whole has managed its macroeconomic variables following quite strictly the recommendations stemmed from the ''Washington Consensus''.
Structural as well as ideological aspects give account of the weak positive impact of science, technology and innovation policies on the development process, which stagnation is reflected in the above mentioned indicators. On the structural side two main issues deserve special attention: high inequality and the consistent weakness of local demand for knowledge production and learning improvement, which leads to a weak endowment of interactive learning places. In the ideological side, attention is driven towards the recommendations of the so called International Development Policy Establishment as well as the way latecomers successes have been presented, added to the willingness with which they were accepted locally. In this sense, ideology has imposed a market-centred view of history in which the concept of a ''developmental state'' has been banned, contradicting clearly paths followed during the ''rise of the rest''.
In addition to structural and ideological aspects, two theoretical issues seem to play a role in the above mentioned policy failures. The first one is related to the idea, implicit in most policy designs, that there is a linear succession of events from innovation to the improvement of the living conditions of people, the ultimate goal of development. Some of the ''segments'' of this linear succession are innovation, competitiveness improvement, investment upgrading, lower fiscal pressures through better taxation incomes, unemployment decline, higher wages (eventually) and, therefore, a good mix of conditions for the improvement of people’s life conditions. This linear model works as badly as the linear model of innovation; particularly, like fundamental research may not lead to innovation, efforts towards improving innovation capabilities at firm level, the bulk of innovation policies, may not have a significant impact on the way the most deprived people live. This suggests that if development is conceptualised as Amartya Sen does, that is, as ''a process of expanding the real freedoms people enjoy'' and, moreover, if ''economic unfreedom, in the form of extreme poverty, can make a person a helpless prey in the violation of other kind of freedoms'', innovation policies for development need to link directly innovation efforts to the situation of the poor, a path hardly followed up to now.
In the same line of reflection, it can be questioned if the classical, schumpeterian way of conceptualising innovation, is the most appropriate for linking more tightly development and innovation. In the paper it is argued that understanding innovation as problem-solving, following a more ''engineering'' approach, can illuminate in a different way policy design in underdevelopment, including in problem-solving not only the search of techno-economic solutions but the effective use of them, that is, the complex indeed issue of diffusion.
To better match development purposes, innovation needs to address the problems of those that not only do not have the money to pay for it, but do not have either the notion that science and technology has something to offer to contribute to solve their problems. This calls to the re-orientation of the research agenda towards what can be called inequality concerns; to the extent that research is a central activity for innovation, re-orienting innovation implies necessarily re-orienting research. Some examples of policies aimed at that end and the difficulties they face will be mentioned in the paper. On the other hand, innovation policies for development must learn from what is already being efficiently done in society and help such experiences to develop, grow and spread. Policies from below, or bottom-up, inspired by a gardener spirit are needed, to expand systematically the already existing interactive learning places and to foster the appearance of new ones. Innovation policies are always hands-on policies: development seems to need that innovation efforts handles new and socially important endeavours.