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Technology & Human Development - A Capability Approach

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This is a lecture about my book Technology & Human Development (2015), in which well-being, agency and justice are the core values – as a powerful normative lens to examine technology and its role in development. This approach attaches central moral importance to individual human capabilities, understood as effective opportunities people have to lead the kind of lives they have reason to value. The book examines the strengths, limitations and versatility of the capability approach when applied to technology, and shows the need to supplement it with other approaches in order to deal with the challenges that technology raises.

The first chapter places the capability approach within the context of broader debates about technology and human development – discussing amongst others the appropriate technology movement. The middle part then draws on philosophy and ethics of technology in order to deepen our understanding of the relation between technical artefacts and human capabilities, arguing that we must simultaneously ‘zoom in’ on the details of technological design and ‘zoom out’ to see the broader socio-technical embedding of a technology. The book examines whether technology is merely a neutral instrument that expands what people can do and be in life, or whether technology transfers may also impose certain views of what it means to lead a good life. The final chapter examines the capability approach in relation to contemporary debates about ‘ICT for Development’ (ICT4D), as the technology domain where the approach has been most extensively applied so far.

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Technology & Human Development - A Capability Approach

  1. 1. Technology & Human Development – A Capability Approach Dr. ir. Ilse Oosterlaken e.t.oosterlaken@vu.nl Department of Philosophy, VU University Amsterdam UNU-MERIT seminar series 30 April 2015
  2. 2. The Capability Approach • Normative/conceptual framework • Interdisciplinary literature • Different application areas Re-emerging points in the CA literature: • Every individual ought to have flourishing life • Capabilities & functionings central to our evaluations • Pervasiveness of human diversity • Importance of agency
  3. 3. Defended: Jan. 2013 Forthcoming May 2015 Oosterlaken & Van den Hoven, eds. (2012)
  4. 4. Oosterlaken (2015): •Philosophy of technology •Science & technology studies •Design studies Hartmann (2014): •Development economics •Innovation economics •Innovation studies Kleine (2013): •Human geography (ethnog •ICT4D
  5. 5. Goals of the book 1. Examine the strengths and limitations of the CA as a critical lens to technology (book as a whole) 2. Put CA to technology in the context of some historical and current debates about technology and human development (ch. 1 & 4). 3. Argue that understanding the technology–capability relationship requires iteratively ‘zooming in’ (design details of technical artefacts), and ‘zooming out’ (socio- technical embedding of technical artefacts) (ch. 2 & 3) 4. Show that various technology and design accounts may fruitfully supplement the capability approach – actually need to (book as a whole)
  6. 6. Chapters in the book 1. The Appropriate Technology Movement and the CA 2. The Details of Technological Design 3. Embedding Technology in Socio-Technical Networks 4. Taking a CA of ICT for Development (ICT4D) 2 + 3: Understanding the relationship between technical artifacts & human capabilities 1 + 4: ‘Case studies’ of how CA relates to existing debates on technology & human development
  7. 7. 1. Central Concepts & Ideas in the Capability Approach
  8. 8. What is meant with ‘capabilities’? Intrinsically valuable Instrumentally valuable Individual capabilities Capability approach Innovation studies Collective capabilities Innovation studies Development practice  Human capital  Innovation capabilities of firms or sectors  ‘Capacity building’ by Western NGOs ? Distinguishbetweenmeansand ends!
  9. 9. Nature of Individual Human Capabilities Inputs (Robeyns): • Financial resources • Political practices & institutions • Cultural practices & social norms • Social structures & institutions • Public goods • Traditions & habits • Etc. Distinguish (Nussbaum): • Innate capabilities • Internal capabilities + • Suitable external circumstances for their exercise = Combined capabilities Robeyns (2005): • Ethical individualism • Ontological individualism • Methodological individualism
  10. 10. How to measure well-being / development? Goods (like a bicycle) CapabilityCapability (to move around, to travel)(to move around, to travel) FunctioningFunctioning (cycling)(cycling) Happiness / satisfaction Problem: ‘adaptive preferences’; preferences may become distorted due to extreme oppression or deprivation Problem: ‘conversion factors’ unfavourable for •disabled (personal -), •Bedoeins in the dessert (environmental -) •women in Iran (social -)
  11. 11. “Agency refers to a person’s ability to pursue and realize goals that he or she values and has reason to value. An agent is ‘someone who acts and brings about change.’ The opposite of a person with agency is someone who is forced, oppressed, or passive.” (Source: HDCA briefing note Capability and Functionings:Definition & Justification) Well-being + Agency Important “We see the person as having activity, goals, and projects”, “a dignified free being who shapes his or her own life” “The ‘good life’ is partly a life of genuine choice, and not one in which the person is forced into a particular life – however rich it might be in other respects” Participation / public debate / democratic practice / empowerment important themes in the CA !
  12. 12. Capabilities and Functionings (II) Functionings: • Realized • Achievements Capabilities: • Effectively possible • Valuable options to choose from Compare: •person who is starving •Person who has been fastening for a long time Functioning is the same: undernourished Yet morally salient difference in capacility / agency! Goal of policies: in principle capabilities, not functionings
  13. 13. 2. The Application of the CA to Technology
  14. 14. • People often treated as passive receivers of ICT, overlooking “the needs and aspirations of the people whose interests are affected by the innovations” (Zheng, 2010) • Too much emphasis on economic growth, “which is too narrow to capture the impacts of ICT” (Kleine 2011) • Tension between well-being and agency goals, for example in rural telecentre projects, deserves explicit reflection (Ratan & Bailur, 2007) • Too much attention for ICT distribution and access, even though its “outcome is contingent, depending on individual conversion factors” (James, 2006) Zheng (2007): CA is “able to surface a set of key concerns systematically and coherently, on an explicit philosophical foundation” Usage of CA for Critique on ‘Mainstream’ ICT4D Practice
  15. 15. Does the Technology itself Still Matter? “A key recommendation […] is that the human development of people, rather than technology itself, should be the center of the design and evaluation of ICT programs” Gigler (2008) in a chapter on the CA & ICT4D Does focus on human development not require – somewhat paradoxically - more rather than less attention for technology itself?
  16. 16. ? •…human capabilities  technical artefacts •…capability approach  technology theories & design approaches Research project 2009 - 2015
  17. 17. Understanding the Technology – Human Capability Relationship (I) … requires an iterative movement between: ‘Zooming in’: details of technological design ‘Zooming out’: socio-technical embedding Technical artifacts • Head phone or speakers? • Recording function or not? Bluetooth or not? • Charging with electricity net or solar panels? • Collective listening practices? • Production of new podcasts? • Availability of medicines recommended by podcasts?
  18. 18. Understanding the Technology – Human Capability Relationship (II) … which in turn requires drawing on supplementary ‘technology theories’ and ‘design approaches’ Pluralistic view (micro): •Every technology can be used in multiple ways by its users •Users can choose of which user practices they would like to become part Network / system view (macro): •Technology can only function as part of bigger socio-technical systems •These enable some possibilities, and close of others (user’s choice limited) A teenager uses his mobile phone different from a business man. A car can be used recreationally, or for commuting. Stress free life  Demand, made possibly by new ICTs, to be continuously available Lifestyle based on cycling  urban developments in countries like USA Example:
  19. 19. 3. The CA, Technology & Development (Ch. 1)
  20. 20. The Relation between Technology & Poverty Reduction Development scholars Leach and Scoones (2006) Three broad/general views: 1.‘Race to the top’ 2.‘Race to the universal fix’ 3.‘The slow race’
  21. 21. Outline of the chapter PART I – Exploring the CA in relation to technology & development o Examination of Leach & Scoones’ “3 races” through lens of the CA o Conclusion: CA seems best aligned with the ‘slow race’ o Zooming in on Appropriate Technology movement as example o Conclusion: commonalities. But CA has also added value: • Agency • Gender PART II – Adding nuance: Will the real CA stand up now? o Different versions of the CA o Normative/conceptual framework – different extension possible o Illustration with agency / gender o Compatible with all ‘3 races’ o Illustration with case of KickStart
  22. 22. The ‘Race to the Top’ Leach and Scoones: • ‘The top’  the top in the global economy • “Science and technology driven economic growth” ‘trickling down’ to the poor • ‘development as modernization’ (1950s/1960s) fits with this view • Technology transfer from developed to developing countries Some keywords: • scientific progress, diffusion, • investments, risks, patents, • network age, skilled labor force
  23. 23. Criticism & the Capability Approach Leach and Scoones: •Growth  distribution (‘trickling down’ does not always occur) •Negative side effects of growth (the poor most vulnerable) Perspective that CA offers? •Ethical individualism: concern with capabilities of each and every person, careful with relying on group averages •Critical of sacrificing the capabilities of individuals to “non-capability collective goals”, such as growth or modernization •Income & economic growth: poor indicators of well-being / development ( alternative: capabilities)
  24. 24. The ‘Race to the Universal Fix’ Leach and Scoones: • “breakthroughs in science and technology that will have a direct and widespread impact on poverty” • “big-hitting technologies with the potential for global scope and application” • “the 20th century’s unprecedented gains in advancing human development and eradicating poverty came largely from technological breakthroughs” • e.g. new medicines, crop varieties
  25. 25. Criticism & the Capability Approach Leach and Scoones: • Social, technical and political aspects closely intertwined, thus “treating S&T as a separate issue is dangerous” • Ecologies & livelihood practices are highly diverse,” technologies have to fit these local circumstances • Problems of poverty not just the result of technical matters.” Also other causes, such as conflict and market failures Perspective that CA offers? • Pervasiveness of human diversity, conversion factors • Sen warns against “commodity fetishism” of economists  also technology fetishism? • Focus on the ultimate ends (valuable individual capabilities) stimulates openness to different available means
  26. 26. The ‘Slow Race’ Leach and Scoones: • Making technology fit the local context • Attention for social, cultural & institutional dimensions • Active role for citizens in “both the ‘upstream’ choice and design of technologies, and their ‘downstream’ delivery and regulation” Criticism of Indian activist Vandana Shiva: human concerns overlooked, does not discuss participation/ active role of global South, nor diversity of cultures & solutions Best match with the CA!? Capability approach: • Human diversity significant & far-reaching • Puts people central, as active agents  participation
  27. 27. Example ‘Slow Race’ Perspective: Appropriate Technology Movement • Reaction on (failed) technology transfers & modernization 1950s/1960s • Initially successful movement, although also much criticized. • Lost momentum after early 1980s • Many of its ideas have survived & influenced new movements
  28. 28. What is AT About? “Specific characteristics approach” •Easy to use •Low-cost •Low-maintenance •Labour-intensive •Energy efficient •etc. “General principles approach” •Context suitability central •Design as point of intervention According to Willoughy this is: •A normative statement: priority for certain ends •An empirical statement: criteria based on assessment of which means in practice best serve ends
  29. 29. How Does the CA Relate? • CA compatible with ‘general principles AT approach’ • ‘Specific characteristics AT approach’  assumption of “Third World’ and its inhabitants as homogenous entities”? (Schuurman, 2008) • Taken to the extreme: distinction with ‘race to the universal fix’ becomes blurry • Still: AT has always taken ‘conversion factors’ seriously • Practical solutions of AT worth considering for expanding capabilities • Example podcasting devices Zimbabwe (Oosterlaken, Grimshaw & Janssen, 2012)
  30. 30. Beyond AT: Agency (I) Projects introducing micro hydro power plants in rural Latin America (Fernández-Baldor et al. 2012): •Case 1: community hardly involved, maintenance problems  frequent power interruptions (classic failure case) •Case 2: strong participatory process, still operational  variety of well-being improvements (AT: respecting agency instrumentally important) •Case 3: project as driving force for the community to take on new development challenges (CA: constructive + intrinsic value of agency)
  31. 31. Beyond AT: Agency (II) “Participatory development” on the agenda since mid-1970s. Yet problems (Mohan 2008): •Tokenism: more about rhetoric than actual empowerment  message of CA not redundant •People are situated & embodied agents, their ability to participate depends on material and social structures  CA as comprehensive & holistic approach acknowledges this •Communities often treated as socially homogenous, ignoring e.g. power & gender differences  emphasis CA on human diversity
  32. 32. Appropriate for Whom? Gender and Technology (I) • AT movement: attention for social & environmental factors, less attention for personal conversion factors • Appropriate for whom? Whose interest does the technology serve? • Gender often one of most salient facts of interpersonal diversity within communities • “appropriate technology […] is often inappropriate when gender issues are taken into account” (Stamp 1989) • Not until 1980s that gender & technology became distinct topic of research. Yet still a challenge • E.g. impacts of appropriate energy technologies on lives man & women differ significantly (Fernández-Baldor et al. 2014)
  33. 33. Gender and Technology (II): What Can the CA Offer CA in several ways “gender-sensitive evaluative framework” (Robeyns 2008)  Focus on capabilities and functions, instead of resources, helpful in revealing gender differences  Looks into both market and non-market settings  Attention for human diversity in terms of conversion factors  Ethical individualism: household not primary unit of analysis  Yet no ontological / methodological individualism: so within CA one can study influence of social structures on women’s capabilities and choices  Acknowledgement of problem of adjusted preferences
  34. 34. Will the Real Capability Approach Stand Up Now? •To summarize: •CA natural ally of proponents ‘slow race’ •CA very compatible with AT, although it also goes beyond AT Two concerns: 1.CA is merely normative framework, not theory about empirical reality / phenomena. What one sees through the ‘lens’ of the CA depends on ‘filters’ (technology theories) one adds 2.‘The’ CA does not exist. Only limited number of normative/ethical claims shared by all partisans of CA  Argument so far overestimates what CA can do / underestimates degree to which people - even when all adopting the CA - can still differ of opinion about technology
  35. 35. ‘The’ CA Does Not Exist • Multidisciplinary literature: economics, political science, philosophy, development studies, etc. • Even differences between Sen (economist, social choice theory) and Nussbaum (philosopher, narrative approach) • Robeyns: ‘narrow’ versus ‘broad’ application of the CA o Well-being vs. broader range of values (agency, justice, ….) o Individual wellbeing vs. policies/institutions/social practices
  36. 36. Robeyns: “Concentric Circles Account” of the CA Core of CA: • People should be able to lead flourishing, truly human life – functionings/capabilities as core ‘evaluative space / informational base’ • Normative evaluation of functionings / capabilities is needed • There may be other elements of value & claims of the right which do not refer to capabilitarian notion of the good • Ethical individualism Around this inner circle different types of applications: • Quality of life assessments (focus of Sen) • Theory of justice (focus of Sen) • (Re)conceptualization of phenomena (e.g. education, technology) Further circles depending on e.g. further normative commitments, or additional ‘explanatory theories’
  37. 37. The CA and Gender Theory / Feminist Concerns Different capability analyses / normative evaluations of gender cases possible, depending on e.g.: • conservative or feminist gender theory • (normative) theory of preference formation (Robeyns, 2008)
  38. 38. The CA and Agency • Sen: distinction between agency freedom & well- being freedom. Nussbaum: capability/functioning distinction enough to capture importance of agency • Nussbaum: more focus on agency as integral part of outcome of development. Sen: role of agency in process of development very important. • “Agency-based development ethics” of David Crocker: Sen’s CA + deliberative democracy + modes of participation from development ethics • Agency & technology? Draw on STS, design studies, etc?
  39. 39. Back to the ‘Three Races’ & the AT Movement • There has been a lot of criticism on AT over time, e.g. “the AT movement died because it was led by well-intentioned tinkerers instead of hard-nosed entrepreneurs designing for the market” (Polak and Warwick 2013) • CA on its own does not have much if anything at all to say about truth or convincingness of most of them • CA is not incompatible with other two ‘races’ • Nussbaum sees central role for governments, but one may also believe “that te capabilitarian ideal society is better reached by a cooordinated commitment to individual action or relying on market mechanisms” (Robeyns, 2014) • Likewise, CA allows for many different views on how to make technology work for the poor
  40. 40. Example: “KickStart” • Non-profit social enterprise operating in Africa, founder greatly disappointed in AT (Fisher 2006) • Technologies need to be “designed to create individual opportunities” • Impact is ultimately about things such as enabling people to send their kids to school, or to improve diet & health • We live in a cash economy, money is needed for this • Focus: technologies which entrepreneurs can use to create income • Reliance on “high-quality engineering and mass-production” Do such initiatives truly empower people – in all their human diversity – to lead the lives they have reason to value?
  41. 41. Thank you for you attention! Dr. Ir. Ilse Oosterlaken e.t.oosterlaken@vu.nl

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