The gandhian approach to swadeshi or appropriate technology: A conceptualization in terms of basic needs and equity

This is an examination of the significance of Gandhi's social philosophy for development. It is argued that, when seen in light of Gandhi's social philosophy, the concepts of appropriate technology (A.T.) and basic needs take on new meaning. The Gandhian approach can be identified with theoriginal "basic needs" strategy for international development (Emmerij, 1981). Gandhi's approach helps to provide greater equity, or "distributive justice," by promoting technology that is appropriate to "basic needs" (food, clothing, shelter, health and basic education). Gandhi's social philosophy (Erikson, 1968; Roy, 1985) has been neglected by most development specialists, with only a few exceptions (e.g., Chambers, 1983; Charles, 1983). This analysis attempts to draw out some aspects of M.K. Gandhi's background and his thinking aboutswadeshi (i.e. local self-reliance and use of local knowledge and abilities) andswaraj (i.e. independent development that leads to equity and justice). Gandhi's ideas, which emerged out of an "Indic" meta-cultural background, are based on an emphasis on equity. Gandhi's syncretic Indic background includes a belief in what Bateson (1972), writing about Bali, Indonesia, has called the "steady state." Development activities should be carried out in a phased manner that does not disturb the beneficial aspects of dynamic equilibrium, but that does promote "positive development." A.T. is particularly useful within the context of a basic needs approach to international development because use of A.T. is probably more likely to lead to equitable growth. The "economic growth" strategy, utilizing "advanced technology" (or even "high tech") exclusively, has caused unemployment and has not led to effective "trickle down," much less "high mass consumption." In many developing countries the poorest 20% of the population are worse off in 1990 than they were in 1980. By making use of the "advantage of backwardness" (Veblen, 1966) and viewing development in terms of long-term impacts, a basic needs approach using A.T. is more likely to lead to a positive impact on third world food systems than a pure "economic growth" strategy.
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