Background Reading

The Karen Village Technology Unit, a demonstration center with working tools and machines, a workshop, and a simple laboratory for testing A.T. devices is described here. This was one of the first efforts of its kind.

The extension systems discussed in this book differ from the conventional “top-down” approaches. “Thinking based on ‘introduction’ of appropriate technology tends to foster an attitude that the technology is something brought in from outside. Whereas, it would probably be more useful to think in terms of the ‘generation’ of the technology within the society.”

Radical Technology, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-13, book, 304 pages, by Godfrey Boyle, Peter Harper, and the editors of Undercurrents Magazine, 1976, out of print in 1985.

An “extensively illustrated collection of original articles concerning the reorganization of technology along more humane, rational and ecologically sound lines. The many facets of such a reorganization are reflected in the wide variety of contributions to the book. They cover both the ‘hardware’—the machines and technical methods themselves—and the ‘software’—the social and political structures, the way people relate to each other and to their environment, and how they feel about it all.”

Radical Technology gives a thorough treatment of what for many is the logical application of the concept of appropriate technology to the developed countries. Thus, while coming from a different perspective, it does cover nicely (though briefly) such topics as biodynamic agriculture, composting, agribusiness, hydroponics, solar energy, water power, metalworking, and transport, along with the more expensive intermediate technologies of printing and communications. Essays alternate with factual presentations.

Unquestionably, the recent popularity of appropriate technology stems at least in part from the energy/environmental/cultural crisis in the West. This book provides a good overview of some of the thinking going on in the West in response.

“Radical Technology encompasses much that is meant by ‘alternative technology’ but sees these new, liberating tools, techniques and sources of energy as part of a restructured social order, and aims to place them directly in the hands of the community.”

Repairs, Reuse, Recycling: First Steps Toward a Sustainable Society, Worldwatch Paper 23, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-14, booklet, 45 pages, by Denis Hayes, 1978, out of print.

This report critically examines the flow of most materials from their sources (a mine, forest, or crop) to the dump. The imperatives for recycling materials are reviewed: increasing scarcity and energy expense of recovering non-renewable resources; political tensions caused by uneven distribution of resources worldwide; and escalating environmental costs and hazards.

Three basic approaches to sustainable resource use are waste reduction (emphasizing more durable appropriate technologies), waste separation, and waste recovery. Examples of recent recycling programs illustrate the importance of scale for recovery systems. Centralized high-technology recovery facilities depend on long-term guarantees of a steady flow of waste materials. Any programs which actually reduce the flow of waste then threaten the financial viability of the high-cost recovery facilities. “A more sensible approach would be to first see how much of the problem could be solved by comprehensive programs for reducing waste, recycling, and composting. Appropriately-scaled resource recovery facilities could then be constructed to process the remaining waste.”

A well-documented paper, pointing to the importance of both “technical fixes” and social reorientation.

Technology and Employment in Industry, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-17, book, 389 pages, edited by A.S. Bhalla, 1981, revised 1985.

A collection of case studies: can-making in Kenya, Tanzania and Thailand; jute processing in Kenya; textile manufacturing in the United Kingdom; sugar processing in India; manufacturing cement blocks in Kenya- running engineering industries in Colombia; metalworking in Mexico; and extracting and processing copper and aluminum in the United States, Zambia, Zaire, and Chile.

“The studies demonstrate quite clearly that substitution possibilities exist in industry in both core and ancillary operations. This conclusion, based on empirical evidence, is important, since it has often been assumed that there is no choice of techniques in manufacturing industry. Secondly, the range of available techniques can be widened by re-designing or copying older designs and blueprints with local engineering adaptations, or through local manufacture of equipment. Thirdly, quite often the use of capital-intensive techniques, where more labor-intensive ones could have been used equally efficiently, is due not to the fact that there are no other technical possibilities in industry—there are—but to imperfect knowledge and inappropriate selection systems.”

This book strays rather far from our focus on home-built and village-level technology, but the conclusions are significant from the point of view of village industries and other small-scale industries to which they may be linked.

Towards Global Action for Appropriate Technology, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-18, book, 220 pages, edited by A.S. Bhalla, 1979, Pergamon Press, out of print.

A set of essays examining the need for and nature of national and international mechanisms to support appropriate technology research, development and dissemination. Nicolas Jequier writes about some of the non-economic criteria that should be considered in evaluating possible appropriate technologies. Ajit Bhalla discusses the elements of a basic needs strategy for development, and policy choices to make appropriate technology part of that strategy. Amulya Reddy offers a framework for understanding why existing R&D institutions in developing countries do not generate appropriate technologies, and what shifts in policy and orientation are needed to ensure the development of A.T.s within some of these institutions. Willem Floor describes the activities of the U.N. agencies, and how they do or do not touch on appropriate technology. Paul Marc Henry, Reddy and Stewart present a final 13-page proposal for a “new international mechanism for appropriate technology,” a non-governmental organization to be associated with, but outside of, the United Nations.

National policy initiatives and programs, and international institutions can all play a major role in improving the climate for A.T. work. In reality, however, many of the most effective A.T. efforts around the world were initiated without government and international agency support. This volume unfortunately does not discuss the possibilities for in-country and international cooperation among grass-roots appropriate technology groups themselves, often forced to operate without policy support or funding.

The World of Appropriate Technology: A Quantitative Analysis, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-23, book, 210 pages, by N. Jequier and G. Blanc, 1983, English edition out of print, French only.

After studying the growth of institutions and activities in the late 1970s, the authors came to the conclusion that appropriate technology thinking had been far more accepted by governments and large institutions than had been previously supposed.

“Governments have become the main source of funds for A.T. activities throughout the world, and their weight tends to be particularly high in the developing countries…. Sociologically speaking, the A.T. movement has many features in common with the intellectual elites that brought about political revolutions in other places and other times. Not only because of the educational level of its members, the urban location of its activities or the intensity of its communications networks, but because of a much more subtle phenomenon of termite-like penetration into the decision-making circles of governments, industry, banks, political parties and trade-unions.”

The authors illuminate the linkages among groups, the levels of funding and staffing, and the strengths and weaknesses of the A.T. movement as it existed at the time. The concluding remarks provide another set of provocative insights in keeping with the high standards of Jequier’s previous book.

Appropriate Technology: Problems and Promises (see review).

Tools for Conviviality, book, 119 pages, by Ivan Illich, Heyday.

Illich used the unfamiliar term “convivial” in a special way—”as a technical term to designate a modern society of responsibly limited tools …. People need new tools to work with rather than tools that ‘work’ for them. They need technology to make the most of the energy and imagination each has…. A convivial society should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others. People feel joy, as opposed to mere pleasure, to the extent that their activities are creative…. We must recognize the nature of desirable limits to specialization and output…. Common tools would be incomparably more efficient than primitive, and more widely distributed than industrial devices.”

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