From appropriate technologies to re-appropriated technologies 0
Increased investment in knowledge related to technology development means that much of the technology we use today are commercial goods. Acquisition and transfer of technological knowledge ceases to be an informal process of the commons. Instead, it is subject to the laws and interests of the market, such as patents and intellectual property registers. It is therefore developed mostly by large corporations and nation states. The result is excessive automation, which causes obligatory human displacement, wastes resources and disempowers users through decreasing social knowledge about technologies.
The absence of scientific and technological capacities, the lack of economic conditions that would encourage innovation, and inadequate introduction to technologies generate economic changes in the realities and priorities of countries. The imbalance in the trade in knowledge creates a great difference between countries and individuals and puts those who are net importers of technology – or simply consumers – at a disadvantage in the relationships of economic exchange. The state of dependence and inequality in development is observed when the principal source of technology in a country is located abroad, and when there is no local capacity for generating and adapting its own technology. The import of technologies is not, in itself, necessarily a disadvantage (all countries do it). The bad thing is the absence of correct policies of transferral of the associated knowledge and the dependencies that this generates.
The introduction of an inadequate technology, one that is not understood, to a community, or its adoption by an individual, creates a vicious circle of technological dependence and an economic evolution incompatible with social needs. That dependence becomes a cause, symptom and consequence of the lack of autonomy. Thus, evolution and technical changes in the economies of the countries of the misnamed “Global South” are substantially different from those observed in the countries of the Global North or Western block countries.
The technological imbalance that capitalism introduces may be key to the creativity for meeting needs through appropriated technologies. If we make the situation reversible again, new and unstoppable processes of autonomy emerge. At the end of the day, what community does not need efficient technology that is understandable and adapted to the specific environmental, cultural and economic context?
Appropriate Technology 1 means technology that is adequate, useable, shared. Appropriate technologies can be high or low tech, they are built and distributed with free licences, GNU GPL, free and open source software and can occur in various fields of action from agriculture, permaculture, gardening and construction to communications, health and education.
The term originally emerged from the Anglo-Saxon environmentalist movement during the 1973 energy crisis. In his book, “Small is beautiful” 2 the British economist E.F. Schumacher promoted the value of technology as health, beauty and permanence. In this sense, appropriate technology is best suited to the environmental, cultural and economic context; requiring few resources; implying the least costs; with a low environmental impact; low levels of maintenance; created using local skills, tools and materials; and that can be locally repaired, modified and transformed.
The term appropriate, as a synonym for adequate, can generate confusion. An expensive technology could be the most adequate for a healthy community with the capacity to pay for its maintenance, thus activating economic flow and concentrating it on reinforcing the direction of those with most power.
In terms of intermediate technologies, these can also be appropriate. They tend to be much less costly than the prevailing technology, and be built using materials and knowledge available locally, easily bought and used by people with little access to resources. They can increases production whilst minimizing social dislocation.
“Slow Design” 25 is an holistic design focus that takes into account the broadest range of material and social factors, including short and long term impacts. In “Slow Design, a paradigm for sustainable living”, Alistair Fuad-Lucas develops sustainable design, balancing sociocultural, environmental and invididual needs. The concept is applied to experiences, processes, services and organisations. It is a road to the dematerialisation necessary for sustainability in the long term. It seeks human well-being and positive synergies between the elements of a system, celebrating diversity and regionalism.
Re-appropriated technologies mean rethinking technologies we need from a political position. It means placing technology at the centre of life, within a transversal axis where other disciplines such as ethics, social problems or the environment can also be found. It seeks to integrate them all into a whole, with a view to preserving and defending life against power, so that it is not oppressed. When we place technology at the centre we don't necessarily build a technological world like the current one, filled with dependencies and frustrations and ties that upset the balance between the powerful and the oppressed.
If our desire is to bring about social change towards a more sustainable, collective and communal society, we must change the means, the resources and the relationships that currently sustain society based on economic interests. We must return to ourselves, individuals and communities, women and peoples, the part of our technological empowerment that has been expropriated from us. We must generate a technology, a science, and the their dissemination, that is focused on life – just as it was before the Industrial Revolution. It will be necessary to change the structures and above all those that sustain knowledge, because if the whole system and the processes change, but the the structures and the relationships that form between us do not, then nothing has changed.
Re-appropriated technology has a political determination to fragment the capitalist system, favouring the creation of small, decentralised communities of equality and self-organisation. Re-appropriated technology calls for a less alienated society, more integrated with natural processes. Re-appropriated technologies are implanted by the individuals and communities themselves, not by governments. Such policies cannot be designed without going to the territory, and government work only happens in the management decisions taken in offices. We need re-appropriated technology that incorporates our ancestral traditions in the context of industrialisation, and brings back these technologies and techniques to our daily lives. Ancestral traditions have an already inherently environmental, sustainable and holistic foundation. We need technologies that create well-being, beauty and community.
Re-appropriated technologies from personal experience
Over the past 10 years I have tried to carry the theory into practice, I have adapted and changed my ways, I have created protocols and free licenses that defend our re-appropriated technologies. I have tried to generate collective workshops where people exchange experiences and skills and which could extend to productive activity that will cover basic needs and enrich the communities.
I have discovered an existing market niche for re-appropriated technologies: one way to describe it would be “in order to be productive and sustainable, a producer of organic walnuts or almonds has no intermediate solution between a nut-cracker and a super machine costing thousands of Euros. Re-appropriated technologies would occupy that space, adapting to the user and to their environment”.
Society as a whole, and the majority of social movements, have not defended technology, science or technological sovereignty as a social practice, for the individual or the collective. The debate is marginalised, and little by little, new technologies are introduced into our daily lives, making us more dependent and having little to do with the four freedoms. Thankfully there is always a minority group that reverts or questions this.
In the majority of technological spaces, the majority of participants belong to the patriarchal male gender. This situation has not changed yet and often that machismo gets more ferocious, because it is not only present in the content, but also in the ways of doing things, in the treatment received, in the general atmosphere, in the working environment. These are marked by competitiveness and egos that are touched only at great risk of being victimized. These macho attitudes are all the more significant because we come from a scene with an understanding of questions of gender, yet people simply don't want to change the existing privileges, or they are afraid of reconsidering them because sometimes it is easier to defend oneself than to do the internal work required. I will give you a real example of a case that happened to me with two crane drivers.
Situation A: We had finished working with an oxygen trailer 35 and they had to take it away with a crane. A man arrives. He puts some straps around the tank which, when they are tightened, mark a small bulge in the trailer, which is made of multiwall polycarbonate. I said to him:
“Excuse me, it would be better to put a cloth under the straps so that they don't mark the trailer. That way it will arrive to my client in a perfect condition.”
“Don't worry, it is fine like that. It's fine” He says, without listening to me.
I wait 30 seconds to answer him.
“Hey, put a cloth, it's no trouble.”
“You'll see how much they mark it in the ferry. This is nothing.” He is still not listening to me.
A minute of deep breathing, and I think, I am the client, if I tell him to put a cloth under it, he should just put a cloth under it. Why so stubborn?
“I'm sorry, but it is better if we put a cloth”. Finally, with gritted teeth, he does it.
Situation B: My car broke down in the middle of the mountain when it was terribly cold, and I was waiting for the tow truck to arrive. The truck driver arrived and she told me that my breakdown could be fixed if we took out a tube. She could not get it off because her hands were freezing, and my hand unconsciously moved to help her. OK, perfect. She was not shocked, she did not say I was getting in the way, she just said thank you and we tried to remove it together.
The intransigent attitude in situation A does not happen with all men, nor the contrary with all women. Rootless, competitive, intransigent, oppressive, unequal attitudes belong to patriarchy and we can all be victims of them whatever our gender. Technology and science, as tools of power, advance according to the directives of patriarchy and capitalist society.
Thus re-appropriated technologies should be something more than the technological objects and the sciences in themselves, they should also be the set of relationships that emerge around those objects. Could re-appropriated technologies be manufactured in a workshop with totally patriarchal ways and attitudes? I think not. It makes no sense.
It is necessary to put technology at the centre of life, speak of cranks and pistons, as we would speak of kitchen recipes. That is what Jineology does 33, it does not separate the object from the subject, it mixes them within a healthy relationship, not as something external, but as something that is mutable and can always be improved upon.
Another nuance of re-appropriated technologies lies in how they are applied. If we take similes from everyday life, we can simply make our bed, or we can shake the blankets out of the window, leave them to air in the sun, brush the mattress to remove creases. Behind all these steps are techniques to improve our lives. Another example would be in the application of moisturising cream. It is one thing to just wipe over it with your hand, and a very different thing to carefully apply it with small gestures, the effects are far greater.
It is the same with everything. Everything has techniques and science behind it. Learning these small habits is not so hard. In order to incorporate sciences that improve our lives, and make them habits, it is necessary not just to do, but also to understand why we are doing it that way...
Naming some re-appropriated technologies
In the field of construction there are a wide diversity of techniques: Adobe, Super Adobe, Clinker bricks and Corncob insulation among others. All are made with local materials that are relatively cheap. Architecture for Humanity 10 follows consistent principles with appropriate technologies, aimed at people affected by natural disasters.
In the field of energy, Amory Lovins' term “soft energy” 12 describes renewable and appropriate energies. These tend to be introduced into isolated communities and places with low energy requirements. There are off-grid designs 11 that are not connected to mains electricity. The high costs of the initial investments and training for maintenance need to be taken into account. They use solar panels, which are initially expensive but simple, wind generators or microturbines in waterfalls, and this energy is stored in batteries. Biobutanol, biodiesel and vegetable oil can be appropriate in areas where vegetable oil is abundant and cheaper than fossil fuels. Biogas is another potential source of energy, particularly where there is an abundant supply of organic waste.
In lighting, the Light Up World Foundation 13 uses LED and renewable energy sources, such as solar cells, to provide light to people with little resources in remote areas, to replace dangerous kerosene lamps. The Safety Lamp 14 is a kerosene lamp designed in Sri Lanka, that has a metal top and two flat sides to stop it rolling if it is knocked over.
In food preparation, intermediate technologies are used to reduce the labour required by traditional methods, for example, the Peanut Peeler in Malaysia. In kitchens, fair kitchens, smoke reducers and efficient stoves save time, reduce deforestation and are beneficial for health. Briquettes 15, developed by the Legacy foundation 16, transform organic waste into fuel. Solar Ovens are appropriate in some areas, depending on the climate and on local cuisine.
In refrigeration, the pot-in-pot refrigerator 17 is an African invention that enables them to keep things cool without electricity for far longer. This is of great benefit to the families that use it. For example, the girls who sell fresh shellfish in the market can leave the shellfish in the device while they go to school and go to the market later.
In water, the Hippo Water Roller 18, enables more water to be carried with less effort. The Rain Water Harvester requires an appropriate storage method, particularly in dry areas, and the Cloud Collector is excellent for areas where rain is scarce. In Water Treatment, high standards must be applied when water must be purified before use. Ground water could be clean enough, depending on the depth and the distance from sources of contamination such as latrines; rain water can be clean if the area where it falls is free of waste. Nevertheless, it is advisable to treat it to remove possible contamination. The principal processes are: filtering, biofilm, sedimentation, heat, UV light, and chemical disinfection using chlorine.
Soft-sand filters provide high quality treated water through a simple operation, used both in healthy nations and poor communities. Crushed Moringa oleifera or Strychnos potatorum seeds can be used as coagulants, impurities are easily removed by sedimentation and filtration. Ceramic filters, made of clay mixed with an organic material such as coffee, are found in many homes in South America. The LifeStraw 19 is a small device that allows the user to drink directly from dirty water. Cloth filters or solar disinfection are useful at a small scale that requires few jars or bottles.
In accesibility, the Whirlwind wheelchair 23 provides desirable mobility for people who cannot buy the chairs used in developed countries.
In sanitation, BiPu 20 is a portable latrine system appropriate for disasters. The Orange Pilot project 21 was a solution for the sanitation crisis of urban neighbourhoods, and the low-cost latrines developed in villages in Bangladesh responded to health problems caused by open sewers. Reed beds 22 purify grey water. Ecological sanitation treats human waste in order to protect both human health and the environment, with water being used for hand (and anus) washing, while nutrients are recycled to help reduce the need for artificial fertilizers.
In healthcare, the phase-change incubator created in the late 1990s is a low cost way to create microbiological samples. A number of appropriated technologies exist to benefit public health, particularly the use of clean water in sanitation.
Finally, in the area of Information and Communications Technologies, we have the 2B1 5 and the Simputer 6 computers aimed at developing countries, where the principal advantage is low costs, resistance to dust, fidelity and local language support. ILDIS OnDisc 7 uses CDs and DVDs in areas without a reliable connection to the Internet nor sufficient money. Wind-up 8 by Jhai Foundation, makes radio, computer and communications systems autonomous. Mobile telephones can also be re-appropriated technologies in places where commercial providers cannot or does not want to ensure widespread coverage. Loband 9, developed by Aidworld, strips all bandwidth intensive content from Internet traffic and converts web pages to simple text, increasing transmission speed, making it appropriate for slow connections.
No technology is adequate in absolute terms. According to the UNIDO 26 it is a case of “the technology that best contributes to the economic, social and environmental objectives, taking into account the development challenges, resources and conditions for application in each territory”.
Adequate technology makes optimum use of available resources in a territory to maximise the well being of the population. Economic sectors with different characteristics make different technologies. Ideally there should be patterns of balanced development, where extracted resources can gradually replenish themselves in equilibrium. Products should be developed to account for income levels and for the different lifestyles that exist. Needs should be met, not generated. Small scale is preferable to large.
Adequate management is associated with the generation, transferral, adaptation, assimilation and internal dissemination of the necessary technologies to meet social and economic needs, without ignoring the ecological balance. To reach this, there must be consensus, and an organisation capable of integrating a continuous process of technological management, guided by a strategy that harmonises the functioning of the techno-scientific system with the transformation and development of the productive system. This organisation must constantly question and it must be particularly involved in dissemination and education. It is therefore important to be based on local needs, decentralised structures, small nuclei, and communities with stable networks of trust and reciprocity. If there is a major management structure in a country, it should incorporate the needs of these nuclei, from the bottom up. Poor individuals and countries should remember that they have the possibility to have their own voice, and take responsibility for ensuring that their decision making power in terms of their own economic and social evolution is respected in this interdependent world.
0. There is a longer version of this text available in Spanish here: http://elleflane.colectivizaciones.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Tecnologias_reapropiadas2017.pdf ↩
1. Appropriate technology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appropriate_technology ↩
2. E.F. Schumacher: Small is beautiful. ↩
6. Simputer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simputer ↩
8. Wind-up radio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_power ↩
9. Loband: http://www.loband.org/loband/ ↩
10. Architecture for humanity: http://architectureforhumanity.org/ ↩
11. Off-grid design: http://www.off-grid.net/energy-design-service-questionnaire-spanish/ ↩
12. Soft Energy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_energy_technology ↩
13. Light Up World Foundation: http://lutw.org/ ↩
14. Safety Lamp: http://tecno.sostenibilidad.org ↩
15. Briquette http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomass_briquettes** ↩
16. Legacy Foundation: http://www.legacyfound.org/ ↩
17. Pot-in-pot refrigerator: http://www.mienergiagratis.com/energias/mucho-mas/mas-proyectos/item/66-p000028.html** ↩
18. Hippo Water Roller: http://www.hipporoller.org/ ↩
19. LifeStraw: http://eartheasy.com/lifestraw ↩
20. BiPu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BiPu ↩
21. Orange Pilot. ↩
22. Reed beds: http://www.wte-ltd.co.uk/reed_bed_sewage_treatment.html** ↩
23. Whirlwind: http://www.whirlwindwheelchair.org/ ↩
24. Cloth Filter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloth_filter ↩
25. Slow design: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_design ↩
26. UNIDO, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation: http://unido.org/ ↩
27. A Guide for the Perplexed: http://www.appropedia.org/A_Guide_for_the_Perplexed ↩
28. Alternative technology: http://www.ata.org.au/ ↩
29. Eco-village: http://www.ic.org/pnp/cdir/2000/08ecovillage.php** ↩
30. StewartFrances: Technology and underdevelopement, 1983. ↩
31. Isaías Flit: Tecnologías apropiadas o manejo apropiado de las tecnologías. ↩
32. Fuad-Luke Alistair: Slow Design' - un paradigma para vivir de manera sostenible?. ↩
33. https://comitesolidaridadrojava.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/por-que-jineology-reconstruir-las-ciencias-hacia-una-vida-comunitaria-y-libre/ ↩
34. Heberto Tapias García: Tecnología adecuada. ↩