Distributive paths and channels of emerging technologies in developing countries: What can we learn from biotechnology and ICTs in Argentina and Costa Rica?

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Bortagaray, Isabel
Cozzens, Susan E.
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This paper analyzes the paths of emerging technologies in developing countries, particularly considering its distributive dimension along the chain of functions, from knowledge production, to the technology’s production/provision, its incorporation into the productive system, and to its more generalized access and use. Two contrasting countries, Argentina and Costa Rica, set the context of study of these paths, the different conditions through which they make their way across sectors and actors, their functions and roles, and the type of distributive channels involved. The analysis of the distributive patterns of emerging technologies must include at least two intertwined levels: at the level of knowledge production, diffusion and access, and the second related to technology’s diffusion-commercialization, access and use. The twofold analysis involve a common emphasis on the identification and analysis of who produces/gets what, how and when, and on the channels of distribution that contribute (or not) to the breadth and depth of the technology. More in particularly, it considers those policies, organizations and/or institutions that substantially influence/shape the way in which the technology penetrates society. In some cases these have to do with establishing channels for bridging knowledge production and use, while in others their contribution is towards the expansion of technological access and appropriation. It also looks at the different roles of policies along each phase of the technology. This paper argues that at the level of knowledge production, public research organizations (national and/or international) are fundamental for catalyzing the expansion of the distributive path, in spite of differences and peculiarities of the technologies. Yet at the level of the distribution of the technology, this role is not always embraced by a specific actor or by policies, in which cases distributive paths are interrupted, and pockets of population remain outside from the technology’s path. It directly results from a large research project, RESULTAR2, oriented to study the distributive consequences of emerging technologies in five countries of the Americas (Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica and United States), and concentrated on two sets of emerging technologies: biotechnologies (GM, tissue culture, and recombinant insulin) and ICTs (Open source software and Mobile Phones). Moreover, RESULTAR attempts to: “(1) describe the dynamics that link emerging technologies to patterns of inequality; (2) identify the roles of public interventions in those dynamics; and (3) develop a framework that policy actors can use prospectively to analyze the distributional valence of a specific new technology in a particular national context.”3. This paper takes some distance from the focus on outcomes to concentrate on the paths of these technologies across the population, focusing on the mechanisms and channels through which they are accessed and utilized. In particular it draws on 40 indepth interviews conducted to a wide range of actors, including researchers, policymakers, technology users, NGOs, and productive actors related to the five technologies in the two countries.
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