Tuesday, 18 September 2007

DSA DAY 1: STEPS PANEL SESSION 1 - PATHWAYS TO SUSTAINABILITY

STEPS PANEL SESSION 1 - PATHWAYS TO SUSTAINABILTY: LINKING TECHNOLOGY, POVERTY REDUCTION AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, opens the first STEPS panel session by saying in this era of dynamic change there are some huge opportunities to tackle poverty and social justice given the current high profile philanthropic and political interest, but conventional approaches are often missing their mark. (Photo: John Thompson at the panel session)

And it is often politics and power that shape which pathways come to be followed. STEPS intends to develop a ‘pathways’ approach in the Centre’s interdisciplinary research that brings together science and technology studies and development studies.

Some of the main notions the STEPS pathways approach that thinks about multiple pathways in specific locations and multiple perspectives. The approach encompasses, among other things, a normative positioning to poverty reduction and social justice, and a reflexive approach appreciating how one’s position affects action. Our research is designed to be interactive and to build on the knowledge and perspectives of poorer and marginalised people.

John Thompson, co-convenor of the STEPS agriculture and food domain, takes the floor to talk a bit about the Centre’s work in the area of the dynamics of agricultural change.

“In our first Working Papers on agriculture we have tried to challenge some of the existing narratives and dominant perspectives that have been around for a quarter of a century,” says Thompson. “They make assumptions about a stable and resilient environment and talk of progress towards some singular goal.

“There seems to be an assumption of transfer of science and technology to ‘backward’ agricultural settings. We are trying to make the case for understanding different scales – there are a range of different interactions in food systems –ecological and governance changes – it challenges us to think of new ways of governance. In addition we recognise and look at different pathways to Sustainability and out of poverty. But we know there is not a single pathway to high growth and high resilience, and few of the pathways are going to be straightforward.

STEPS agriculture research will work with ACTS and other partners in Kenya to look at maize innovation. “There is a big push to come up with new varieties that are stress-tolerant varieties in these rapidly changing environments and we’ll be investigating and exploring that and the pathways they open up,” says Thompson. In addition there are a range of complimentary research projects including the Future Agricultures Consortium which is organising a workshop in December called Farmer First Revisited, looking at farmer research and development.

Gerry Bloom, convenor of the STEPS Centre health domain steps up to take a look at what has changed in the area of health and development and why a new approach is needed. “Whereas health was about worthy things we did for poor people and luxurious things we did for ourselves, now we are all worried about health,” he says, noting that HIV/AIDS was the turning point. Health in A Dynamic World is the title of the STEPS Working Paper Bloom co-wrote, and the dynamics that have changed health beyond all recognition in the last 30 years include population density, animal husbandry, the emergence of drug resistant organisms, communications, urbanism, shocks and long-wave events, says Bloom.

And there the likelihood of major future challenges is only going to grow, and we now have areas that are extremely dangerous for global pandemics such as avian flu. Development studies has to recognise that we are not getting healthier, not getting better, but face major new challenges going forward.

Changing governance arrangements, such as government policy responses, is one of the areas that STEPS health intends to look at. Some other questions STEPS health work is addressing include how can governments help households and communities cope with major illnesses; what institutional arrangements are emerging to help people gain access to health care; how important is IT and communications and how is government going to respond.

Lyla Mehta
now takes her turn on the floor to talk about the challenges for Sustainability in water and sanitation and asks “are we running out of water”? Mehta says that the way water scarcity is measured – in volumetric terms – tells us little about access, about the way people think of water, changes in institutional approaches to water.

So STEPS has been trying to look at water in a different way – in a dynamic way – at the faultlines and challenges, and at who is shaping the debate. Current approaches do not take in to account the dynamism of change and the many social, technological and environmental interactions around water, says Mehta.

And whose sustainability counts? How to achieve pro-poor sustainability will be a major question for STEPS, looking at areas such as moving beyond the functionality of water and sanitation access, and what is missing in terms of water governance and design to address the disconnect in diverse understandings and framings of liquid dynamics.

And, phew, after those back-to-back presentations in a packed seminar room now for the questions:

Melissa Leach answers a question about how STEPS defines good and bad technology: It would be wrong to pitch STEPS as looking for technology-led solutions, says Leach. Yes technology has a place but it depends on the politics and ethics of technology choice. If a technology is able to be part of the pathway towards Sustainability, then yes, we would see it positively she says.

And, phew, after those back-to-back presentations in a packed seminar room, now for the questions:

Melissa Leach answers a question about how STEPS defines good and bad technology: It would be wrong to pitch STEPS as looking for technology-led solutions, says Leach. Yes technology has a place but it depends on the politics and ethics of technology choice. If a technology is able to be part of the pathway towards Sustainability, then yes, we would see it positively she says.

Leach responds to a hefty challenge about the nature of the STEPS Centre – that it sounds too good to be true. She says that conflict are very much there in the setting in which STEPS will work and “we have no desire to shirk that”. She said the question is an active, live debate in the Centre and that a look at our Working Papers will be reveal that better than a short debate session.

Thompson says STEPS is very much looking at the issues of power and politics in looking at innovation systems. Andy Stirling, co-director of STEPS, adds that the fact that STEPS does not have an over-arching theory is a “saving grace” because he believes that hegemonic theories are in danger of pushing out the politics and power, which the Centre does not want to do.

Stirling adds finally that we are at very early days at the STEPS Centre. And with that, it’s time to wrap up for the first day of DSA 2007.

No comments: