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Sociotechnical myths and development

Mythes socio-techniques et développement

Proposal for a special issue of Anthropology and Development

Proposition de numéro spécial pour la revue Anthropologie et développement

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Published on Friday, October 23, 2015 by Céline Guilleux


The 2000s seem to be characterized by a new wave of socio-technical and institutional systems, which are promoted as quasi-universal solutions, resolving an entire set of issues, finally providing THE answer to development. This special issue of Anthropology and Development aims at critically analyzing the making and unfolding of such socio-technical myths. Empirically-grounded contributions will analyze socio-technical systems that are presented as ‘reference’ frameworks and provide guiding principles of interventions whose overall aim is to improve the living conditions of people in developing countries. Case studies do not need to be focused on technical objects but need to make explicit the ‘materiality’ of the system being studied.


Special Issue Editors

  • Jean-Philippe Venot (UMR G-EAU, IRD)
  • Gert Jan Veldwish (Water Resources Management Group, University of Wageningen)


Technologies have long played a central role in development practices and discourses. This close relationships stems from the industrial revolution of the late 19th century, which reinforced the idea that technological innovation is a driver of progress and modernity. Technologies, like maps, exert a fascination linked to the fact that they are seen as direct ‘application’ of a science that would be neutral and objectives, and pass on an image of soundness and certainty, scientifically legitimized.

This view of technology underpinned technology transfer programs that have long dominated (still dominate) public development aid programs since the 1950s. Such programs attribute intrinsic characteristics to technical artifact, independently of the socio-environmental context in which these are used. Such conceptualization of technology makes it possible to celebrate the potential of silver bullets to address the grand challenges our societies face: hunger, poverty, health, environmental degradation. From the 1970s onwards, however, it became clear that technology transfer did not systematically lead to poverty alleviation and could even lead to increased inequalities. In the agricultural sector, for instance, the ‘Green Revolution’ has been a hotly debated topic. The 1980s and the 1990s witnessed repeated calls that technical artifacts would not, alone, solve complex issues and needed to be included in integrated approaches but these have also quickly acquired the status of silver bullets.

Many scholars, using the notions of system and network, have questioned the linearity of technology transfer and innovation diffusion models on the ground that they failed to accurately describe the complex dynamics of appropriation and adaptation that technologies go through in different context. Other, even more critical scholars, see in the introduction of ‘modern technologies’ a risk towards ‘local’ knowledge and practices. Such discussion on the impacts of technologies took place against a background of conceptual debates on the notion of technology by scholars in Science and Technology Studies. The latter notably highlight that technical artifacts are social constructs resulting and shaping social relationships within ever evolving actor-networks.

Despite such conceptual advances in understanding technologies and their effects, the 2000s seem to be characterized (maybe in relation to significant progress in information technologies), not by a come-back of technical objects but of broader socio-technical and institutional systems (that is a complex web of technical objects, recommended practices, forms of organizations and management, and underlying societal choices). These are promoted as quasi-universal solutions, resolving an entire set of issues, finally providing THE answer to development. Agricultural practices and technologies such as SRI (System of Rice Intensification, conservation agriculture, and drip irrigation, specific crop systems such as jatropha cultivation for bio-energy, nutritive packages such as the Plumby Nut, promotional campaigns of mosquito-nets, modalities of participation such as multistakeholder and innovation platforms or value-chain approaches, policy reforms such as Irrigation Management Transfer are examples of such interventions that have been heralded as miracle and universal solutions.

This special issue of Anthropology and Development aims at critically analyzing the making and unfolding of such socio-technical myths. Empirically-grounded contributions will analyze socio-technical systems that are presented as ‘reference’ frameworks and provide guiding principles of interventions whose overall aim is to improve the living conditions of people in developing countries. Case studies do not need to be focused on technical objects but need to make explicit the ‘materiality’ of the system being studied. We welcome contributions examining interventions in the fields of education; health and sanitation (latrines, vaccines, mosquito nets, etc.); natural resources management (land, biodiversity, forests: mapping and formalization, payment for environmental services), agriculture (SRI, conservation agriculture, IMT/PIM, drip irrigation, certification, GMO), etc.

Specific contributions can draw from different theoretical bodies and disciplinary approaches such as Anthropology of Development, Political Ecology, Science and Technology Studies (notably the sub-fields of actor-network theory, practice-based theory of innovation, social construction of technology) in order to answer questions such as (1) what defines a technology or a socio-technical system, and through which processes of problem framing can these be presented as miracle solutions; (2) who are the actors involved in the framing and promotion of such socio-technical myths and what roles do they assume; (3) how have these supportive networks been actively shaped, through which strategies of engagement and interessement; (4) how are these socio-technological myths promoted and “marketed”, on the basis of which underlying ideologies; (5) through which processes and practices are ‘implementation’ challenges, failures or reinterpretation of these models overlooked or even silenced, thus allowing the reproduction or reinvention of these myths; (6) what are the consequences of the persistence of such myths in terms of equity and justice and (7) what can explain that some of these myths fade away.

References inspiring the special issue

Akrich, M., Callon, M. & Latour, B. (1988a). A quoi tient le succès des innovations? 1 : L’art de l’intéressement. Gérer et comprendre, Annales des Mines, 11, 4-17.

Akrich, M., Callon, M. and Latour, B. (1988b). A quoi tient le succès des innovations? 2 : le choix des porte-parole. Gérer et comprendre, Annales des Mines 12, 14-29.

Bijker, W.E. ; Law, J. (1992). Shaping technology/Building Society. Studies in sociotechnical change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Diemer (ed.). (1997). La négociation sociale des dispositifs techniques pour le développement. Bulletin No. 13 de l’APAD. Hamburg : APAD.

Forsyth, T. (2003). Criticial Political Ecology – The politics of environmental science. New York, London: Routledge.

Jiggins, J. (1989). Farmer participatory research and technology development. In Occasional papers in rural extension No. 5. Ontario, Canada: University of Guelph.

Lewis, D., & Mosse, D. (2006). Development brokers and translators: The ethnography of aid and agencies. Bloomfield: Kumarian Press.

Long, N. 2001. Development sociology: actor perspectives. London and New York: Routledge.

Olivier de Sardan, J.P. (2005). Anthropology and Development: Understanding Contemporary Social Change. London: Zed Books.

Mosse, D. (2005). Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice. London: Pluto Press.

Röling, N.G. (1992). The emergence of knowledge systems thinking: A changing perception of relationships among innovation, knowledge process and configuration. Knowledge and Policy.  The International Journal of Knowledge Transfer and Utilization 5:42-64.

Sumberg, J.; Thompson, J. (2012). Contested Agronomy: Agricultural Research in a changing world. New York, London: Routledge.

Schedule and submission modalities

Proposed contributions can be written in French or English

Long abstract (2 pages; 1,000 words) to be submitted

by November 15, 2015

  • Notification of pre-acceptance by December 15, 2015
  • Paper submission (50,000 characters maximum, see instructions below) by April 30, 2016
  • Notification of acceptance and reviews (by the guest editors and external reviewers) sent to authors by June 30, 2016
  • Revised and final versions of the papers to be submitted by August 31, 2016

Submissions to be sent to: and, with copy to

A peer-reviewed journal

Anthropologie & développement is a peer-reviewed journal. Abstracts are chosen jointly by APAD and by the editors of the special issue and articles are reviewed by the editors (or one of the editors) of the feature and by a member of the Scientific Committee, chosen with regards to the subject matter of the article and to its geographic field.

The reviewers communicate their opinion on the interest and quality of the article and on the possibility of it being published in the journal.


The review of articles can result in four responses:

  • Accepted
  • Accepted with revisions
  • Proposal of significant modifications without guarantee of publication
  • Rejected

The author will receive a response regarding the evaluation of his or her manuscript in the three months following its submission to the APAD Journal. In the event that the article is publishable with certain revisions, or rejected, an analysis of the manuscript, intended for the author, is conducted. These comments are forwarded anonymously to the author. The revised version is evaluated by reviewers before being finally accepted.

Scientific Committee

  • Sylvie Ayimpam (IMAF, Aix-en-Provence, France)
  • Thomas Bierschenk (Université Mainz, Allemagne)
  • Giorgio Blundo (EHESS, Marseille, France)
  • Jacky Bouju (AMU, CEMAF, Aix-en-Provence, France)
  • Laurence Boutinot (CIRAD, Montpellier, France)
  • Mirjam de Bruijn (ASC, Leiden, Pays-Bas)
  • Ann Cassiman (Faculty of Social Sciences, Leuven, Belgique)
  • Jean-Pierre Chauveau (IRD, Montpellier, France)
  • Jean Copans (Université Paris Descartes, Paris, France)
  • Abdou Salam Fall (IFAN, Université Cheick-Anta Diop, Dakar, Sénégal)
  • Marion Fresia (Institut d’ethnologie, Neuchâtel, Suisse)
  • Sten Hagberg (Université d’Uppsala, Uppsala, Suède)
  • Oumarou Hamani (LASDEL, Niamey, Niger)
  • Mathieu Hilgers (ULB, Bruxelles, Belgique)
  • Jean-Pierre Jacob (IHEID, Genève, Suisse)
  • Ludovic Kibora (CNRST, INSS, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)
  • Pierre Joseph Laurent (UCL, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgique)
  • Philippe Lavigne Delville (IRD, UMR GRED, Montpellier, France)
  • Pierre-Yves Le Meur (IRD, UMR GRED, Nouméa, Nouvelle-Calédonie)
  • David Lewis (London School of Economics, Londres, Grande Bretagne)
  • Christian Lund (Copenhagen University, Danemark)
  • Pascale Moity Maizi (SUPAGRO, Montpellier, France)
  • Roch Mongbo (Université Abomey-Calavi & LADYD, Bénin)
  • Tania Murray Li (University of Toronto, Canada)
  • Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (LASDEL, Niamey, Niger)
  • Fatoumata Ouattara (IRD, UMR SESSTIM, Marseille, France)
  • Maud Saint Lary (IMAF, Paris, France)
  • Mahaman Tidjani Alou (LASDEL, Niamey, Niger)

Instructions for preparing manuscripts

The manuscripts should be written in Word or Open document and should not exceed 50,000 characters (with spaces, and including footnotes and bibliography).The manuscript should be in the simplest possible style, entered in continuous text («au kilomètre») without tabulations and style formatting (feuille de style), using Times New Roman 12 point.

The text should be written with single line spacing, the space before and after should be 6 points (there should be no paragraph breaks between paragraphs).The final version must be formatted according to the style of the review (this will be sent to the authors following the acceptance of their text).

The manuscripts should include:

  • a title and possibly a subtitle
  • the name of the author, the institutional/academic affiliation  and email address should appear at the end of the article.
  • an abstract in French and in English (200words)
  • footnotes numbered from 1 to 20 (maximum)
  • quotations should be in the running text (if longer than 2 lines the quotation should be set off from the text with an extra line of space above and below)
  • figures, graphs and maps should be supplied separately (not embedded in the text)
  • there should be a maximum of two levels of headings in the text
  • titles, subtitles, headings and sub‐headings should be short and clear
  • a bibliography including all of the authors cited in the text


  • Sunday, November 15, 2015


  • mythe socio-technique, développement, innovation, réseau, transfert, technologie, dispositif, système, acteur-réseau


  • Revue Anthropologie et développement
    courriel : revue [at] apad-association [dot] org

Information source

  • Anthropologie et développement
    courriel : revue [at] apad-association [dot] org

To cite this announcement

« Sociotechnical myths and development », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, October 23, 2015,

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