|Negotiating Technology: The IITs in India|
|Why could India position itself at the cutting edge of a technologically meditated service industry, thus adopting the historically unprecedented trajectory of development via a revolution in the services sector rather than in manufacturing (Dossani, 2007),as economic globalisation picked up in the late 90s? I argue that part of the answer lies in the continued legacy of a specific construction of development and technology that had its roots in colonial India, and was institutionalised in the post colonial state, notably through the the setting up of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) the elite technical universities of India, in the 1950s. Using these as a methodological tool, I look at how certain modes of technology were accepted and others, such as Gandhian alternatives were rejected in tune with the broader aims and transformations in the post colonial state, and how this was a spatial and temporal process that continues to influence India’s developmental and technological choices.
A clear line can be drawn between colonial decisions taken to adapt certain forms of technology and definitions of development, the institutionalisation of these in the post colonial state, and India’s contemporary success in a technologically mediated service industry. Adapting the idea that knowledge is inherently transgressive and transdisciplinary (Nowotny, 2003), and in contrast to a top down linear diffusion model of technological transfer, my paper explores this process as a critical arena of transnational and local negotiation that was a crucial element in the legitimizing strategies of non-state governance in the post colonial state.
Extant literature looks at perceptions of science in the British Empire, its institutionalization for political purposes, the impact this had on the periphery and the metropolis (Baber, 1996; Adas, 1989); and the close link between Empire and scientific pursuits (Headrick, 1981). Historians have also begun to explore how various aspects of India’s development agendas had their roots in a specific conception of development and modernity (Agrawal, 2003). Conceptions of 1930s New Deal water projects influenced Nehru’s commitment to large dam projects (Klingensmith, 2007), or imperial ideas of health played a role in broader debates about the post colonial order (Amrith, 2006). However, the development decision to invest in a technologically intensive knowledge society, and its broader implications has not been closely studied. I look at how this process was institutionalised and the process of negotiation with indigenous alternatives such as the Gandhian mode of development, and how this process illustrates the relevance of local contexts to the transnational circulation of technologies. To cite two examples, Sir Ardeshir Dalal, who in 1944, as the first head of the Department of Planning and Development in India, drew up the blueprint of the IITs, making the crucial decision that technology rather than capital was key to India’s progress, was an alumni of Cambridge. Today, many of the entrepreneurs in India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, are IIT alumni who have returned from the USA but leverage India’s niche in the global knowledge society. For my sources I use science and technology policy documents that span the colonial and post colonial period and the archives of the IIT and locate them in the broader context of literature on technologically mediated modernisation.|