In his fascinating assessment of attitudes and approaches to technology, David Edgerton has shown how the history of technology is generally represented as the story of ‘innovation’ and ‘invention’. As a consequence “inventors are ahead of their time, while societies suffer from the grip of the past, resulting in a supposed slowness to adapt to new technology” (Edgerton 2006: IX). What Edgerton proposes instead is to reconsider the history of technology from the point of view of use: David Edgerton is an historian but his insights about technology do not only concern the past; they also invite a reconsideration of the present enabling us to reject, the distinctions commonly made between ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’, ‘futuristic’ and ‘obsolete’, ‘indigenous’ and ‘global’, technologies. This is not to deny that certain recent technologies are genuinely innovative or ‘new’; nor is it to consider that low-tech and alternative technologies should necessarily be preferred to ones which appear more ‘sophisticated’. What it does suggest however is that a radically different conception of ‘innovation’ and ‘invention’ emerges once one rejects the hierarchy commonly made between ‘innovation’ and ‘adaptation’, ‘invention and ‘diffusion’, and it is a much more inclusive one. One should also add that such a change of perspective suggests a less restricted notion of what should be considered as technology today.
Another consequence of this approach is that it invites us to reconsider the circulation of technology from a different perspective. We therefore intend in this workshop to reconsider how new technologies flow and circulate around the globe. One cannot ignore the obvious fact that we are seeing the emergence of new technological and industrial centres which accompany the rapid redistribution of economic power around the world; but one should also take into account the fact that technology is – and has always been - flowing and circulating in much more unexpected ways than predicted by the old-fashioned diffusionist models which are still prevalent, even in these times of globalisation. By privileging in this workshop (and in our collective project) a comparative approach between three very different geographical regions - South Asia, the Middle East and Europe – we hope to be able to propose an approach to technological flow, which will be sufficiently global and comparative, for going beyond the specificities of any particular culture or society, and which may really better help us understand the dynamics of technological circulations and the processes by which technologies are reinvented in different locations.
Main Indology Hall, French Institute of Pondicherry, 11 Saint-Louis Street, Pondicherry 605 001