Thursday, April 21, 2005

Indigenous Knowledges Conference

I've submitted the following abstract to this conference. One of my advisors, Dr. Jay Johnson at Canterbury University is also attending. I'm hoping to see some of the other usual suspects, and hoping the big one lays off a bit longer...

Anyway, here's what I'm talking on:

Technology Transfer: The Diffusion of Advanced Biotechnologies to Maori Horticulture

The role of technology in any society is difficult to isolate. First, it is all pervasive: no society lacks technology (although some certainly lag in their attempts to acquire specific technologies). Secondly, it is constituted of tangible innovations - pots, metal tools, buildings - and intangible knowledge - pottery, metallurgy, architecture. innovative technolgies are indicators of 'civilisation'. They are also integral to contemporary development, now promoted in terms of a 'Knowledge Economy'.

The sheer pace and scale of modern technological change has meant that althouggh technology is intentionally and systematically put in place, it is now experienced as a somewhat 'alien and uncanny force' (Rapp, 1981). The very 'success' of certain technologies (revealed in their comprehensive diffusion) is implicated in threats to the sustainability of various communities and even humanity itself. In this context, how can sustainable technologies be diffused in order to 'avoid, remedy or mitigate' adverse effects on the environment?

In this phenomenon, indigenous peoples are almost generically described as 'laggards', that is slow to adopt new technologies. While remaining the originators of (acceptably quaint) traditions, indigenous peoples are targeted as potential receptors of new and supposedly beneficial technologies. In my paper I present data from a research project revolving around the innovation of sustainable biotechnologies to Maori horticulturalists. These technologies are distinguished from unsustainable technologies in a number of ways, not least the requirement that they be comprehensively diffused in order to 'work'.

Inputting this data into classical diffusion models reveals 'reverse cascade' diffusion in which the initial innovations are sourced from Maori discourse, and from Maori individuals acting as case studies and/or collaborators. The flow of subsequent innovations appears to be mediated neo-liberal market structures, further hindering the vital diffusion of sustainability on to Maori land.

...I'm four fifths through writing the bastard up and will post it in draft form sometime on the 'morrow...

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