Thursday, 20 September 2007

DSA DAY 3: IT'S A WRAP-UP

And as we draw to a close at DSA 2007, we have a diverse set of panellists to give us some reflections on this year's conference. And they are quite controversial reflections: "It's like being in groundhog day," says the DSA's own president.

Joachim Voss, director-general at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Columbia says he came to the conference because of a concern that science and technology need to be more pro-poor. But says there is very little cross-fertilation between the work he does - research FOR development and the work that most people at the DSA do - research ON development. “What do we need to do to initiate that dialogue?” is his concluding thought.

Andrew Scott, director of policy at Practical Action, says there has been an absence of natural science at the conference, and got a sense that the DSA audience was slightly uncomfortable with the subject when it was mentioned. And given that science and technology is a hot topic, he has been struck by the lack of argument and heated debate. One reoccurring theme has been looking to the past, “which made me wonder what has changed,” he said. “And I’m not sure I got an answer to that.” There have been some thoughts about what the big development challenges are which David King was getting to last night when he talked about the world's population flattening out, says Scott. "But I think the question is what standard of living can people aspire to, and how can we make that equal."

Shiv Visvanathan sees two things - the making of the problem and the response to the problem. "What we are watching here is a fascinating attempt to reinvent democracy," says Visanathan. He sees STEPS as an attempt to respond to these two issues in three specific ways – as trying to work out a new kind of social contract in terms of the politics of memory; the politics of history – a new form of story-telling; and thirdly ritually finishing a form of mourning – as we attempt to bring together some new forms of innovative thinking. "We serve as memory, methodologists and critics – can we be both innovators and story-tellers?" he asks in conclusion.

Sam Jackson, the president of the DSA, says throughout this conference she feels like she has been trapped in groundhog day, hearing the same stuff over and over again: “I find myself slightly frustrated by the sense of being not able to move forward because there is a re-living instead of moving forward.”

Lack of international voices and a hope for the growth of interdisciplinary studies are two more views from the floor.

“The glaring gap I see here is the private sector, apart from the person from Monsanto," adds Voss. "The key actors in all of this are BP, Shell and such. So how do we democratise the large scale private sector so that it becomes responsible to the poor of the planet?”

STEPS is a great vehicle to tackle some of these issues but what we need to do is take the learning from STEPS and stick it into policy-making,” adds Scott.

Lawrence Haddad, diretor of IDS, has the final word, or rather words: development studies has to get engaged with science and technology."Ultimately it can't be about 'us and them' - not ignoring, glorifying or vilifting science, but engaging with it."

And that's it from DSA 2007, you can see more news and views about the conference on the DSA's official conference blog. We'll be back on The Crossing blog with more news and views from the the STEPS Centre soon.

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