Mastering the Machine Revisited

April 29, 2005, [MD]

I think I found out about this book from the Engineers Without Borders discussion forum. (Actually, I read Mastering the Machine, and then leafed through MTM Revisited to see if anything was new.) It is produced by a foundation set up by E. F. Schumacher, which works with appropriate technology in developing countries. The author seemed to have a good sensitivity for what appropriate technologies work and which do not.

He gives a lot of examples of practical problems and solutions, many of them none to inspiring. NGOs and official development agencies are criticized for being to idealistic, scorning commercial cooperation (be it local or in the West), and not listening enough to local people. Sometimes appropriate technology might be big, sometimes it might be small. The theory of technology transfer is criticized, especially if that means transplanting a factory into the middle of the desert. He implies that what is needed for technologies to work is a whole ecosystem of services, cobblers, repairmen and parts manufacturers - as well as trained personell. This must grow organically (although we can help it along), but cannot be kickstarted from nothing.

In this, he echoes the sentiments in Jane Jacobs, especially in her book Cities and the wealth of nations : principles of economic life, which is highly recommended. She lays out a whole theory of economic development based around cities, and the “ecosystem of services and trades” that Smillie only implies. I wrote to Smillie and said that he should refer to Jacobs :).

342 p.

Stian Håklev April 29, 2005 Toronto, Canada
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