A political economy of science and technology

We need to set up our own centres of research and thinking capable of forming our own plans of knowledge creation oriented to the needs of our peoples.

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Article published in ALAI’s magazine No. 507: Conocimiento, ciencia y tecnología 29/09/2015

Given the quantity of research undertaken and the questions related to global development and the new world system, is not only necessary, but urgent to design a new endeavor to develop research in the South, linked to training for political cadres, managers and designers of public policies, academics and researchers. This is a matter of creating a profound connection between teaching and research, in order to create areas of collective reflection and production of knowledge.


Developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America must strengthen the capacity of their own systems of research and academic institutions in order to: establish conceptual foundations for a deeper understanding of the current process of globalization; analyze their situation, diagnose their problems; determine their national, regional and local objectives; design development policies that are sustainable in order to overcome the serious structural limits of the process of globalization; control the formation of disarticulated megalopolises in their territories and finally, achieve a degree of civilization compatible with the potentialities of the current scientific and technological revolution and establish democratic models of wealth and power.


In this regard, it is necessary to develop a methodology of analysis not only of the basic structures of the world system, but also a method for analyzing the situations generated by the principal tendencies of globalization in the world today. These can serve as tools for research, the results of which can be integrated into educational programmes at a postgraduate level.


Postgraduate students will have the chance to develop their own work based on their participation in areas of research that enable them to understand the forces that are leading towards economic expansion dependent on global markets, integrated in an unequal and combined way, interconnecting large social classes and groups that are incorporated into the big cities, in demographic conurbations that tend to break with rational geographic frontiers.


In these new units of population, the relations between districts of different cities indicate a preference for housing in cities that are distinct from places of work, even when there is a lack of adequate means of transport for people to reach their workplaces.  Heavy migration to the cities from the countryside incorporates new communities, even new peoples that cross national borders, from different linguistic, ethnic, social and economic groups.


Recent decades, dominated by a "neoliberal" ideology, have merely brought to light a more violent emergence of the new reality that we call the megalopolises, that is to say, the anarchic units of huge urban centres.


In underdeveloped zones of the world, these phenomena take on increasingly disarticulated forms, generating unprecedented new social phenomena and strong social anomies that the social sciences, strongly influenced by structural functionalism, are unable to explain. Heavily studied micro-economic phenomena suffer fundamental change in the face of these new realities, as the result of global socioeconomic forces that affect all of humanity, although they produce quite different concrete realities.


These local effects depend on the relative position that diverse social groups occupy in this new global reality that is in full expansion. The enormous socialization of the process of production on a global scale leads to a division of work on a worldwide scale, in which the tasks of planning, research and development, design, the market and the incorporation of significant innovations remain in the centres of the world system, while productive activities with more intensive use of manual labour are transferred to peripheral zones.


Today this phenomenon is having a gigantic and decisive impact in the contemporary world. The centres of political and administrative decision continue to by upheld by the distribution of power of the post-World War II period; meanwhile, in the real world we are seeing spectacular jumps, as the semi-peripheral and the peripheral zones begin to take advantage of the inconsistencies produced by the contradiction between, on the one hand, the beliefs of the centres of world power located in the United States and Central and Northern Europe, with respect to the capacity and the quality of their institutions to maintain the present structure of world power and, on the other, the growing complexity of this world system that is undergoing a full mutation.


The third industrial revolution


The process of globalization of the world economy and politics, based on the techno-scientific revolution that began in the 1940s, gradually subjected the process of production to scientific development, introducing research and development into the very centre of the economic process.  Today, robotics and telematics produce an expansion of information that is radically changing the relation between science, technology and the productive process, considerably transforming the scale of production through automation. In spite of the fact that production is subordinated to scientific progress – particularly artificial intelligence and communication –at the same time this allows for an important differential of productivity in favour of areas that used to be peripheral.


These technological innovations produce structural changes as they amplify the role of services, as well as the activities related to research, planning and the design of products, even creating new sectors – industries and economic activities – and changing the relations among them. The result is a third industrial revolution that involves the planet in a new international division of labour that is integrated with the instantaneous process of communication and interdependency and reduces the distance between distinct regions of the globe. In this context, the global ecological equilibrium is broken, threatening the survival of humanity due to the degradation of the environment and the threat of a nuclear holocaust (1).


In this context of rapid change, regions that do not participate in the development of new forms of industrial and post-industrial production are increasingly distanced from world centres of power. This process of globalization thus increases the technological gap between developed and "developing" countries. Nonetheless, it also generates opportunities for a concentration of wealth produced by the stronger nation States, with impressive human masses and educational processes capable of rapidly increasing the intellectual, political and economic capacity of these zones, that had previously been subordinated to the designs of the centres of world power.


The less technologically advanced regions have been penalized by a perverse dual trend. As we have seen, the disordered introduction of new technologies and systems of production have eliminated non-monetarized sectors of subsistence that sustained significant rural-peasant populations, such as community production, handcraft and informal exchange, etc.  These changes have provoked a massive exodus of rural populations to urban areas and created a grave and complex interaction between high technology, concentration of wealth and wretched living conditions. This new reality has given rise to a source of social and environmental tensions whose limits are still unclear.


On the other hand, there is a serious absence of global development capable of contributing to more balanced industrialization, a broad-reaching education system and a well-coordinated service sector that could favour the advance of new technologies and of the new system of production.


The results have been, as we have seen, an urban explosion that is not accompanied by a reasonable socioeconomic structure, the deterioration of the environment, an increase in poverty, indigence, marginalization and social exclusion, phenomena that characterize the megalopolises. All of these tendencies have been recognized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other international organizations dedicated to the study of development. Every day brings new literature on these phenomena.


The unregulated and market-oriented world economy is leading to an impressive concentration of wealth and, at the same time, an increase of poverty and indigence, that bring with them serious problems of social disintegration and exclusion in the framework of unemployment and under-employment. This situation poses an important question for humanity: are social justice and economic development incompatible? Will humanity be able to dominate capitalist economic relations that are apparently uncontrollable?




The recent rise of BRICS, interlinking centres of power of all the continents with diverse mechanisms of integration, cooperation and solidarity, is generating a world power-mass in full expansion, based on State capitalisms with the capacity to prevail over the private centres of power organized in monopolies and oligopolies that are increasingly inefficient, ambitious and speculative and that – for this very reason – seek to accommodate themselves under the umbrella of nation States, that are obliged to face the needs and expectations of their diverse peoples.


The weakening of hegemonic global centres and their incapacity to revise their theories and values makes it ever more necessary for us to create our own theoretical and empirical endeavours, in pursuance of our own development goals, in accordance with our capacities and possibilities. It is in this field that we should formulate a political economy capable of redefining the role of science and technology according to our own realities: our particular problems that require adequate solutions; our own traditions of community organization, our material and intellectual instruments for building a cultural and intellectual project at the service of our peoples, starting from our capacity for organization accumulated over centuries of management of millions of human beings. Economic science developed by the centres of world power and their dependent and subordinated imitators have little to teach us, since they live on the creation of formalized models – ever more alienated from reality – in which local differences and their cultural roots have no role to play.


For this reason, social scientists from the South should join with their own social forces and political movements in order to produce an efficacious response to global changes. They should gather local, regional and global efforts in the struggle for new styles of sustainable development and socioeconomic justice that would incorporate ethnic groups that were historically suppressed and excluded from the full exercise of their citizenship.


Workers, women and youth who emerge on the world political scene as politically active subjects, with their own points of view, identify their integration in the world political system as an objective that cannot be put off. The social sciences must help to prepare a new generation of researchers, but also of managers who are up to these tasks. This is not only a question of rising to the level of the big centres of world power, but rather to set up our own centres of research and thinking capable of forming our own plans of knowledge creation oriented to the needs of our peoples. Thus, a new geopolitical project can be produced that can challenge the designs of exclusive and imperial domination by big capital, installed in their powerful but decadent national States.


(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)



[1] The global capacity of the nuclear and environmental threat demands a radical change in the instruments of international management, the opening up of a broad-based international discussion and the creation of institutions with the responsibility to open the way towards a new international order and new mechanisms of governance.



- Theotonio Dos Santos, visiting senior researcher of the Universidade do Estado de Rio de Janeiro (UERJ); President of the UNESCO Chair on Global Economy and Sustainable Development (REGGEN); World Marxian Economics Award 2013 from the World Association of Political Economy (WAPE).


* Article first published in Spanish in edition 507 (September 2015) of ALAI’s magazine América Latina en Movimiento, titled “Conocimiento, ciencia y tecnología” (Knowledge, science and technology) http://www.alainet.org/es/revistas/507



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