Beyond adoption: Understanding technological change in smallholder agriculture

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Location: Online

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This seminar is part of the 2021 Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development thought leaders seminar series that brings leading experts together to share knowledge around sustainable development challenges. This first season of the series focuses particularly on sustainable agriculture.

The speaker will be Dr Dominic Glover from the Institute of Development Studies.

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Abstract

In this presentation, I will discuss how the theory of affordances may be used to think about the specific implications of technology and technological change for different rural people and communities, where agriculture offers one of the main sources of employment and livelihoods. The theory can be used to investigate how a spectrum of opportunities, benefits, costs and risks is generated and unevenly distributed by different kinds of technology. The particular ways technologies are configured, practised and organised generate an array of affordances for different people and groups. Affordances arise from three types of human relations: material and biophysical interactions; socio-cultural norms and structures (i.e. institutions); and socio-economic relations of power. The theory offers a coherent way to explain why the economic, socio-cultural and institutional implications of different kinds of technology differ from one another, and why the implications of the same technology are likely to be different for different stakeholders. These implications are generated situationally in time and space, and they arise out of the specific relations among particular individuals, groups and biophysical environments. Applied to the domain of development-oriented agricultural research and innovation, the theory of affordances provides a conceptual framework that could be used by researchers and practitioners to study the differentiated implications of different kinds of technology and alternative programmes of technological change, both ex ante (e.g. in their design, development and implementation) and ex post (e.g. in the evaluation of their impacts).

The presentation will be framed within a technographic understanding of technology as a kind of practice, and linked to a recent proposal for a new conceptual framework for thinking about technological change in smallholder agriculture (Glover et al. 2019).  Since affordances in theory are generated relationally and situationally for each person, the full array of implications arising from the introduction of new technology could be very wide and diverse. A practical challenge, therefore, is whether and how the theory of affordances might be used practically and operationally to design, implement, and evaluate the appropriateness, accessibility, utility and value of technology and technological change for specific people and groups of interest; to be attentive to the uneven distribution of costs, benefits and risks; and to promote positive and avoid negative developmental outcomes.

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