Development interventions: science, technology and technical assistance
Source: Tand Online
Gisela Mateos ORCID Icon & Edna Suárez-Díaz ORCID Icon
Published online: 29 Dec 2020
Historians in the last two decades have thoroughly argued that science and technology played a central role in the construction of the geopolitical order after World War II. Salient themes have included the internationalization of knowledge through the movement of experts and technologies as a constitutive aim of the newly created specialized technical agencies and multilateral programs in agriculture, public health, infrastructure, communications, and others. 1 Science and technology have also been invoked as crucial ingredients of nation building after decolonization in Asia and Africa, as part of the economic and political tensions arising in the postcolonial and ‘Third’ worlds during the Cold War, and for development and modernization projects in different regions of the world, including southern Europe and Latin America. 2
Notwithstanding the relevance of these studies per se, and the role they have played in bringing to light the multiple agents, synergies and conflicts involved in the second half of twentieth century history of science and technology, they have opened the door to transformative analyses that transcend the post-World War II narrative and reconfigure the historiography of this period. The present volume aims to be a step in that direction, both by decentering the reflection on development and technical assistance from the usual actors and hierarchies – donor and recipient countries – and by bringing to the fore the material and practical implementation of technical and scientific interventions associated with development.
A word of caution is deserved on the uses and changing meanings of terms like ‘technical aid’ and ‘technical assistance’, long associated with the drive to ‘improve’ and to correct ‘backwardness’ in the non-industrialized regions of the world. While ‘technical aid’ was used well before and after the post-World War II period up to this day, its meaning points to that which is given (a noun), including financial support; while the latter–a more recent term coined by the U.S Department of State and the United Nations (UN) bureaucracy–puts the weight on the action of ‘assisting’ through education and training. The distinction between technical and financial aid and assistance was introduced with post-World War II US policies emphasizing the need of international cooperation for economic recovery and reconstruction by means of capital investment and technical and scientific knowledge. Financial resources were offered to Europe through the Marshall Plan, and to Asia through the Colombo Plan and Japanese war reparations after occupation. But a low-cost solution, restricted to the ‘benefits of technical knowledge’, was offered to the new postcolonial nations and to Latin American countries in standardized packages of what soon became known as ‘technical assistance programs’. In the opening contribution to this volume, Jessica Wang digs into the early uses of the phrase ‘technical assistance, as a form of international developmental aid’, and she finds that, ‘it came from the late 1920s and early 1930s in the form of “technical assistance contracts” signed between the Soviet government and foreign companies as part of the Soviet Union’s drive for rapid industrialization’. 3 In this use of the term, the entangled relationship between technical mobilization and the acceleration of time, which is characteristic of modernization projects in the twentieth century, is already present. However, technical assistance and technical aid are sometimes used indistinctively, so it becomes futile to attempt a clear-cut definition that covers all cases. The authors of the following essays rely on the actors’ uses of these terms while recognizing that they point to subtle but historically meaningful differences.