Knowledge and Innovation for Development
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Knowledge and Innovation for Development

The Sisyphus Challenge of the 21st Century

Francisco Sagasti

This text provides a comprehensive introduction to the many different issues related to the Sisyphean task of building science and technology capabilities in developing countries. It attempts to answer crucial questions including: how can knowledge be utilized to improve the human condition, and how can we bridge the growing knowledge divide between those who produce and use modern science and technology – and those who do not?
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Chapter 2: A Brief Historical Perspective

Francisco Sagasti


Each of the three currents of the conceptual framework interacts with the other two and with the institutional contexts in which they are embedded, and all of these currents and interactions experience change over time. Nevertheless, amidst this multiplicity of mutually conditioned alterations and considering the long historical period, the main transformation experienced by societies takes place when there are major qualitative changes in the nature of speculative thought and in the process of knowledge generation. These lead to fundamental shifts in the conceptions of humanity and its relation to the physical world, which, in turn, influence the evolution of the technological base and the expansion and modification of production activities. Therefore, changes in the nature of speculative thought may be viewed as being the primus inter pares, as the primary ordering component of the conceptual framework. 2.1 THE CHALLENGE OF THE WEST The evolution of the different societies in the world can be examined in a relatively independent way until the period between the 15th and 17th centuries, in which the knowledge generation process underwent a radical transformation. Before this period, it is possible to examine the historical evolution of the process of knowledge generation, of the technological base and of production and service activities in the major civilizations – European, Indian, Chinese, Andean, Maya, Aztec and Islamic, among others – considered more or less as individual units. However, the world experienced an irreversible transformation beginning with the scientific and industrial revolutions, which were accompanied by qualitative changes...

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