Direction, Distribution and Diversity! Pluralising Progress in Innovation, Sustainability and Development

Working Paper
  • Published 01/10/09
  • ISBN: 978 1 85864 791 6

Notions of ‘progress’ pervade the modern world. Yet, ‘north’ and ‘south’ alike, policymaking for progress in innovation, sustainability and development tends to be ambiguous. Politicians speak of “the way forward”, without saying which way. History is viewed as a “race to advance technology”, without stating the particular direction. Governments proclaim “pro-innovation” and “sustainable” policies, without specifying which options or values are prioritised. Dissent over choice of directions is treated as generally “anti-technology”. Queries are restricted and polarised around: “yes or no?”; “how much?”; “how fast?”; “who leads?” More searching questions are neglected over “which way?”; “who says?”; “why?”

This is a fundamental problem, because the reality of progress towards sustainability is very different. There are many possible pathways; each looks preferable under different values or interests. Particular paths to sustainability can ‘lock-in’ or ‘crowd out’ alternatives. In a globalising world, we cannot realise all feasible or viable pathways. Conventional distributional measures aim at reducing inequities in implementing paths privileging the powerful, rather than pathways enabling the poor. This paper argues for a more deliberate, equitable and accountable politics around progress towards sustainability. Only by nurturing diversities of pathways to sustainability can we confidently reduce vulnerability and empower the least advantaged.