EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT IN KNOWLEDGE BASED SOCIETY*
The paper investigates the convergence of economy, culture, and technology in contemporary world, and presents models of social creativity for harnessing elearning in rural development endeavers.
Development discourse has constituted a fundamental concern underlying all social theorizations in Iran during the previous century. The persistence of unresolved problems in an era of very rapid social transformations, especially with the advent of disruptive technologies, has led to an outburst of investigations trying to find a blueprint for overcoming underdevelopment. The spatial position of the country, its large area and population, as well as other factors like the importance of the oil economy, both nationally and internationally, all resulted in Iran's adoption of the so called import substitution strategies with disastrous outcomes for the country and its population in general, and its agriculture and rural communities in particular. Price distortions, overvalued exchange rates, and biased internal terms of trade, all instruments of import substitution, not only discouraged agriculture, while encouraging industrial capital and import intensity and limiting the employment opportunities, but also created windfall profits for favored elites. One important consequence of the protection extended towards those favored enterprises is the direct subsidization of inefficient legacy technologies and distortions that hinder the utilization of new and more powerful technologies. Furthermore, the social basis for change in the form of new upwardly mobile middle social strata is not being formed and existing vested interests all, through their continued dependence upon state support, maintain strong stakes in the present state of affairs and lack enough motivation for change. Discourse on development started to incorporate new dimensions and undergo novel extensions during the last two decades. Broader definitions for development beyond measures like per capita GDP, and appreciation of environmental and cultural prerequisites and consequences on the one hand, and the transformations brought forward by technological progress and the advent of the internet on the other redefined the agenda of community development in general and rural development in particular. Suddenly the doors for development theorizing became wide open. The impact of technology- driven transformation, its implications and opportunities for rural development, and how to best take advantage of the new possibilities and avoid new dangers has been the subject of many studies. New stances towards development, new theoretical paradigms, and new practical approaches are also being discussed. We find ourselves surrounded from all directions by this discourse. The theoretical correlates of the contemporary technological changes have constituted a subject of several joint works of ours. In a broader setting, the theoretical standpoints advocated by us individually as well as jointly during the past few decades, together with the corresponding constructs and analysis, though developed in very different fields, suddenly become very relevant and less unconventional. The examination of the authors’ views on the impact of the new technologies and why interdisciplinarity and reuse of theoretical models is necessitated by the new operational ecology will be outlined next; followed by the elaboration of the constructs, models, and stances developed by the authors in their own fields of specialization, in the setting of rural development; together with practical examples. The concluding discussion will restate the concern raised in this introductory remark and present a model for rural development in the digital age.
THE NEW ERA
The radical sociocultural transformations caused by rapid technological advances have resulted in emergence of new theoretical stances designated as postindustrialism, postmodernity, information society, new nomadism, ambient intelligence, digital economy, risk society, and hypercomplex world system, to mention just a few (NERCISSIANS and LUCAS, 1999; LUCAS and NERCISSIANS, 2004; LASH, 1990; RHEINGOLD, 1994). In order to affirm that the modern, industrial, capitalist system has been replaced one must commit oneself to the confines of a particular methodological paradigm. Instead, we shall register the main trends of the contemporary era; let us for sake of simplicity denote it as cyberera, which has come into existence because of the rapid technological progress and the corresponding social and cultural transformations. Information technology and the internet constitute the sharp edge of that driving force, assisted by biotech, nanotech, and an array of other technological domains that have converted everything including genetic and material elements into programmable or configurable wares. Artificial intelligence and artificial life are eroding the boundaries between human beings, animals and plants, and inanimate objects. Communication and information technologies, through networking the world, and supporting electronic and mobile commerce, virtual reality, computer assisted cooperative work, and many other techniques and systems, have further eroded the borderline between the real and the imagined, the actual and the fantastic. Everything has become a cyborg: a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction (HARAWAY, 1991; NERCISSIANS and LUCAS, 2005). We have viewed this process of boundary confusion as identity pollution: a realization that identities are not given and fixed, as well as greater possibilities for framing identities situationally. But before further examining the consequences of this development, let us begin with the premise that will be central to our arguments during the rest of this paper. Firstly, we can point out the very notable trend in the decline of the relative share of the industrial sector and the increase of the share of the service sector during the past few decades. Considering also the advent of new economic sectors (NERCISSIANS and LUCAS, 1999, 2005): knowledge items, cultural goods, etc, we can conclude that we are witnessing the ascent to position of dominance of the so called third economic sector: the sector of intangibles. The consequences of this transformation on the relations between urban and rural development cannot be underestimated. The ascent of the secondary sector: the sector of goods and commodities not directly obtained from nature and usually satisfying our secondary needs, to the position of dominance has been accompanied by continued trend of deterioration of terms of trade against the previously dominant agricultural sector. The result in one country after another has been large scale migrations from rural to urban areas and from the so called periphery to the center. It is not only that the tertiary sector is going to be more important and more technology- intensive than the secondary sector, but also much of the trade is going to take place in the virtual world; through the internet, WWW, and the extensible internet. We are entering the era of digital economy. Its impact on urban- rural conflict is going to be qualitatively of no less significance than the fall of the Roman Empire and the advent of the medieval period. The second important observation is that the commodities in the tertiary sector are usually not mass produced. This follows the very nature of this sector. Services, information items and the other products in this sector have to be custom or semi- custom designed. Business is moving from Product- centricity to customer centricity. How can the economy cope with this paradigm shift? Our analysis shows that this can only be done by increasing modularization of the design and massive reusability of the parts (LUCAS, 2000, 2003, 2004). Monolithic products become dinosaurs. Flexibility, interoperability, scalability, and a whole array of "ilities" become order of the day. This necessitates a most radical paradigm shift in our design approaches and methodologies. Nowhere is this paradigm shift more observable than in the domain of software engineering. All design paradigms and techniques developed in other branches migrate to this domain and become theorized there, ready for other domains like management, manufacturing, even arts, to reutilize. Thus we witness the succession of object- oriented, distributed component, multiagent, aspect- oriented, and other techniques whose applicability is rapidly being diffused in many different disciplines. Not only have these techniques to respond to the needs posed by the qualitative transformations of the technology, but also to the accelerating speed of those transformations and shrinking technology cycles that have become comparable not just to the life cycles of the products, but to time to market periods as well. Agile, model driven architecture and similar techniques have come into existence for supporting reusability not only for product modules, but also for the design itself (LUCAS, 2000, 2003). By automating the physical design and implementation phases as much as possible, we make it feasible, in the short run, for the same design, to be implemented again when technology changes with minimal expense. In the longer run, the vision is that the system can identify its technological environment and reconfigure itself to the requirements of that environment. Let us point out two important trends that result from these changes. Firstly, top- down design paradigms are increasingly being replaced by bottom- up paradigms. Secondly, emergence is becoming more important than planning. New systems are created because the parts have already been created for other purposes and their very existence makes possible their recombination for carrying out a novel task. More and more, design is becoming a composition process. Designers are thinking less about how to construct a subsystem to carry out a given task and more about how tasks can be carried out by the existing parts, or even what new tasks can be carried out by them. Thirdly, the system composition out of constituent parts is progressively becoming dialogue based: message passing between objects, describing interfaces via description languages, languages for modelling, capture of requirements and specifications, architectural descriptions, and most notably, agent communication languages that are based on speech act and communicative action theories rather than conventional linguistics (LUCAS, 2003, 2004; HARAWAY, 1991). We had predicted these shifts via a model consisting of three elements: information, intelligence, and integration. In an economy where information is dominant, the need for rapid redeployment of parts to compose new products for carrying out novel tasks increasingly require autonomy an intelligence for parts to be capable of forming new collaboration patterns and adapting themselves to new modes of deployment, and a world where integration rules and all entities are ready to adapt themselves and constantly become reintegrated. In the social and intellectual planes too, we can mention very important shifts. Firstly, let us point out the convergence of economic and cultural spheres. On the one hand, the process of converting everything into commodities continues in the cultural domain as well. With the rise of the tertiary sector in the economy, cultural goods are traded as commodities. But there is a more important reverse process that is also occurring at the same time. Goods and commodities are not being consumed merely because of their use values, but more and more because of their semiotic potential, the fact that they mark a specific identity. This culturalization of the economy goes hand in hand with the economization of the culture, until they become one and the same. Signification becomes omnipresent (NERCISSIANS and LUCAS, 1999). Finally, we can conclude from this whole analysis that the totality of meaning is progressively being negated and it is increasingly being appreciated that what we have is an infinite play of signification. Signifying elements connote rather than denote. Down also falls the totality of function and functionalism in general. And with them also goes essentialism. Meaning, function, and essence are only constructed through local interactions. Through collaborations and feedbacks in massive scale intelligence in a situated and connectionist sense emerges. Rural development strategies can be seen very differently in light of these paradigm shifts. They, for example, can be viewed as strategies for sense making: living more meaningful lives given the circumstances and possibilities and not merely achieving high growth rates. To apply to the rural development question, let us borrow two further approaches from the arsenal of system design methodologies that have risen to prominence in recent years. The first technique, use of pattern languages has originally been developed in the field of architecture by Christopher ALEXANDER (1977). Like many other techniques, it has later on been adopted by the computer software community and from that domain migrated to other disciplines as well (GAMMA, E., HELM, R., JOHNSON, R. AND VLISSIDES, 1995). Patterns are solutions to recurring problems in design that must be tailored to particular variant of the problem that is, however, never exactly a repetition of the same problem to which a good solution has already been found. They capture best practices achieved in past experience. A pattern language is a tool for supporting reuse of successful solutions to be mined from the repository of best practices. But there is a deeper aspect in Alexander’s theory that other disciplines have been slow or altogether failed to adopt. That aspect is the moral imperative to build whole systems that contribute to the quality of life. Alexander views houses, cities, and other designed whole systems as living entities whose parts are highly adapted to their environmental particularities. Designers can rise to their responsibility to construct things that are nurturing to human beings, conductive to a better living and affective satisfaction, and at the same time to do it in a fashion which could be in everybody's hands, so that the whole thing would effectively then generate itself, if their designs follow a genetic code. This brings us to the second technique: biological metaphor. If pattern- oriented designers have not yet fully adopted this technique, it does not mean that it has escaped the attention of system designers altogether. Artificial neural networks, genetic algorithms, and other biologically motivated computing techniques have become very popular and successful in the last two decades in many different areas of application. They have also changed our understanding of machine intelligence in a very radical manner. For the first time, we have come to realize that to enable a machine perform an act, the designer need not herself know how to go about doing it and merely implement that algorithm. Instead, she can construct a machine with enough faculties to be capable of discovering solutions to problems that its own designer could not solve. The biological approach is a useful tool for dealing with very complex problems facing system designers some of which are developing engineering principles and techniques for directing the behavior of systems composed of myriad potentially unreliable and inaccurately manufactured parts, specifying desired global behavior using only local interactions and limited information about the environment, and correcting subsystem failures as the whole system continues to function. Both hard and soft systems are thus developed along one, two, or all three of ontogenetic, phylogenetic and epigenetic axis; i.e. via growth, evolution, and learning. Our recent research (NERCISSIANS and LUCAS, 2005) has been focused on augmenting biological metaphors with sociological and psychological motivations. The concept of connectionism and collective intelligence means that to make a system intelligent, one need not design very smart and complex parts. Intelligence can emerge from the interaction of simple parts; and for achieving good designs along this line of thought, sociological metaphor can be very helpful. Also, behavioral and cognitive metaphors are needed for achieving satisfactory performance in complex and demanding situations. Affective decision making is an example of how new paradigms of rationality can arise in situations marked by constraints and uncertainties and/ or multiplicity of objectives.
CONTEXTUALIZATION AND CREATIVITY
A critique of functionalism has been implicit in virtually all theoretical developments offering novel stances in trying to seek solutions to complex problems. It has been argued that in applied research especially of interdisciplinary nature, the dominant functionalist assumptions inherent in the given subdiscipline are uncritically accepted. For example, when it is sought to carry out linguistic research that is informed by sociology, the applied researcher seldom reflects upon the school of thought underlying the sociological theories that are adopted in the new setting. A critique of the primacy or even the totality of the function in system design has already been stated. The critique comes in both theoretical and practical levels. The dynamism of technological change by itself has come to challenge functionalism in design. In parallel, it has become increasingly apparent that design need not begin by the determination of the task. Situatedness and embodiment are important determinants of the performance of a learning system. More generally, functionalism gives an overobjectified and overadapted view of the actors. Subjective factors and innovative approaches may easily be left out of the picture in decision making because of methodological biases. For example, in development planning, it is perhaps better to go beyond looking for places where comparative advantage can be found. How about reengineering comparative advantages? Similarly, when we are planning for nitch activities, why only conduct a market research analysis? Why not create markets by active campaigning? Since we have mentioned that economic and cultural domains are converging, and we wish to mention cultural goods as important aspects of rural development studies in the future, let us briefly discuss the construct of ethnolinguistic vitality, which can have important consequences for rural development planning. The construct has been proposed to assess the vitality of a sociocultural group in terms of its ethnic and linguistic elements based on demographics, status, and institutional support. The construct can obviously be redesigned to assess the cultural- economic vitality of a rural community. However, useful as the construct is, it has been criticized for its methodological underpinnings. One aspect of the criticism has been the neglect of ideologies, attitudes, and generally subjective factors. The criticism has been partially accepted by the proponents of the construct, leading them to augment it with subjective factors as well, though in a limited and detached sense only. The discussion on ethnolinguistic vitality resulted in the examination of the wider question of intergroup relations, in which both sides were interested (GILES, 1977; LUCAS and NERCISSIANS,2005; NERCISSIANS and LUCAS,2005). Social identity theory begins with the assumption that people are motivated to maintain or create a positive social group identity. Three strategies are distinguished for intergroup identity enhancement. Social mobility is an individualistic strategy requiring flexibility of intergroup boundaries. Social competition is a collective strategy to improve the group's relative standing. Social creativity is the third possibility. One way of enhancing group identity without direct confrontation with the competing groups is through identification of new dimensions of intergroup comparisons and redefinition of values according to which comparison is made. The subject of social creativity has become very popular as we go beyond dichotomizing between holism/ atomism, creativity/ conformism, order/ disorder, and collectivism/ individualism. More dialogical thinking, a move from objects to systems of relationships, recognizing the individual as a complex rather than simple unity which is not indivisible and therefore fundamentally closed to its environment, but rather open, polycentric, and involved in a web of constitutive relationships which is not simply antagonistic, but also complementary and concurrent, is gradually emerging. Diversity embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and communities is recognized as a main prerequisite for exchange, innovation and social creativity. Creativity is also contextualized. We are creative depending on time and place, contexts and choices, constraints and possibilities. Another criticism to functionalist approach in general, the concept of group vitality in particular, is the implied assumption of homogenous social groups and neglect of internal stratifications and contradictions. In ethnolinguistic settings, we have pioneered the use of game theoretical models in language and cultural planning in recognition of multiplicity of decision makers with different possibly conflicting objectives, as well as the multiplicity of criteria. Not all games are zero sum and there are games where the equilibrium condition is not the same as the optimal solution for the game (NERCISSIANS and LUCAS, 1986, 1987; LUCAS and NERCISSIANS, 1988). Game theoretic models can thus explain complex dilemmas. They can also model the formation of coalitions and assess how communication or its lack among the decision makers can influence the outcome. We have also focused on two dimensional models, where decisions are made according to considerations, motivations, and ideologies in the status- solidarity plane. Non- functionalist theories on role and behavioral compartmentalization and formation of multiple standards that continue to exist alongside one another despite their differential prestige have been presented where the continued existence of low prestige norms and values, often covert rather than overt and regenerated from below, has been explained through their significance in identity and solidarity oriented cosmovisions. A sociolinguistic example of the coexistence of high and low standards, each considered proper in a specific domain is diglossia, which may or may not be associated with bilingualism (NERCISSIANS, 1988, 2000, 2001). Both bilingualism and diglossia may or may not be associated with corresponding constructs in the domains of culture, ethnicity, ethics, and customs. We have further developed that model and argued that the ability and extent of compartmentalization is dependent on the dominance level of the corresponding social entity. Individuals belonging to disadvantaged groups do not find the option of role compartmentalization open to them. Instead, they must constantly engage in role balancing never fully achieving the expectation level in any of the conflicting dimension. This theory explains the difficulty in finding the proper rural development path from the gender or minority point of view. Only social creativity can show a way out of the lose- lose situation. Another important theoretical construct that has been central to our theoretical standpoints is context. Context awareness has in recent years, become an important aspect of intelligent system design. Our initial motivation for theoretical analysis of contextualization was associated with stances that posited the existence of linguistic or educational disadvantages or disabilities among the working class, minorities and bilinguals, children, primitives, etc (NERCISSIANS, 2000, 2003, 2004; NERCISSIANS and LUCAS, 2005; LUCAS, RASHIDI, and ABDI, 2004). These groups and strata were thought to be using restricted rather than elaborated codes, thinking via particularistic rather than universalistic orders, having communicative rather than cognitive linguistic competence. We found a scientifically verifiable and methodologically useful kernel of those theories holding that those social groups have more propensities to contextualize. Contextualization, not necessarily to be regarded as a disadvantage or disability, can be viewed as an identity- oriented solidarity- enhancing strategy, thus explaining the higher propensity of the non- dominant groups to contextualize. It can also be viewed as a strategy to leverage contextual cues to compensate something else that is not there. What is a good strategy for a machine or virtual agent? Contextualization can be an important step towards human- like intelligence for artificial systems. It is well known that context- awareness is emotionally regulated in human brain. There is a good reason for that. In the presence of uncertainties, computational and processing limitations, and multiplicity of objectives, full rationality may not be achievable. Even if it is, it may not be robust enough with respect to possible changes in the environment or our objective. Context- based bounded rationality intelligence is ideal for artificial systems too for much the same reasons. Furthermore, it furnishes an alternative to semanticizing everything and tagging all entities so that they will become machine understandable. Context awareness is especially ideal for rural development programs. There can be no social creativity without context awareness. The best way to identify an innovative approach to the rural development problem is to be sensitive to and aware of the cultural, environmental, and demographic contexts and harness the contextual opportunities. Finally, the discussion of social creativity and context awareness in contemporary world cannot be complete unless the concept of untangible capitals is also mentioned. The most important sector in cyberera is the knowledge sector; and therefore, knowledge capital is the most important factor in any development plan. Closely related is the concept of social capital. Social capital in a community is defined as collective norms of reciprocity and mutual trust that facilitates its functioning as a whole system in a coordinated way. It is also beneficial to distinguish cultural capital as a separate construct. High cultural and knowledge capitals, for example, do not suffice for promoting sustainable development if the prevailing culture does not encompass supportive norms and values. Economic and instrumental rationality may therefore not be a sufficient guide to civic action. A conductive collective sentiment may be as important in a complex, dynamic, and uncertain world. Other constructs, like language capital, or more generally, semiotic capital have also been elaborated in contemporary theorizations. These capitals are correlated and can promote each other (BOURDIEU, 1983; LUCAS, 2004; DEACON, PROSALENDIS, DONDOLO, and MRUBATA, 2004). Argument has been made for the relationship between cultural capital formation and educational capital. Education, it is held, generates the capacity to participate in cultural capital. Education, it has also been argued, is a determinant of social capital. The more educated one is the more one participates in groups, in civic activities. Investment in education, can enhance all knowledge, social and cultural capitals, and benefit not only the individuals directly being educated, but also the community as a whole. Being educated is very highly valued in Iranian culture. Lack of educational possibilities is one of the major motivations of rural to urban migrations. But educated people also need challenging and satisfying jobs where their knowledge and skills can be put to work. So without creating those opportunities, Investment in rural education might not prove enough for halting migrations towards urban centers. Thus hard sacrifices for breaking the spell of underdevelopment and endowing the most capable individuals of the new generation with the necessary skills and specialized knowledge do not result in alleviation of communal problems and become counterproductive.
HARNESSING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Emigrations and the so called brain drain remain fundamental contributors to persistence and even deterioration of multiscale and acute divides. Massive population movements are taking place all over the world despite increasing political barriers to immigration (KHARATYAN, 2003). Such movement need be no more than an expression of an individual desire for change or a choice of locale. But as a social phenomenon this usually arises from and reflects on economic inequality or inequality of economic opportunity between politically discrete zones. A theory of migration and resettlement is contextualized within studies on diaspora, accounting for the tripolar interrelatedness of migrant group, country of origin and country of residence. Urbanization has been an important correlate to modernization. Urbanization has been an important correlate to modernization and the rural has become “the other” in the industrial world, where agriculture is the main activity and the economy is mostly in the primary sector. New technologies have tended to support economic production in massive scales. Trade and financing are important factors. Cultural readiness and coping with rapid change are also very important. Many rural development projects just find themselves surrounded by too many problems to overcome. Some contemporary high technologies, however, do not follow that pattern. Biotechnology for example, seems ideal for deployment in rural regions. We have already analyzed the reasons behind the trend reversals. Those disruptive technologies do not follow the mass production pattern. Instead, they support massive customization (LUCAS, 2003; NERCISSINS, 2003). This is what constitutes an ideal setting for social creativity. Let’s turn the context into an asset by customizing the development route to the particularities of our region and culture. Why not harness the rural otherness? Ecotourism is another example that has gained much importance in recent years. The natural beauties surrounding rural areas present excellent opportunities for tourism. Traditions, ethnic and cultural particularities, ceremonials, foods, drinks, all things that are different and unique present opportunities. In short, with the convergence of culture and economy, all material and spiritual cultural elements are marketable commodities. What about the brain drain? Perhaps there are too many people that have gone to other cities, even other countries, to get educated, or to find good jobs, and have never returned? That can be regarded as an asset too. It means that there is a network of people of the same background, some very well educated and in good positions, many still maintaining ties, or at least interested in a better future for their area of origin, who can extend support to the development effort. No attempt for harnessing new technologies for rural development, of course, can fail to appreciate the importance of information technology. The Internet, is the superhighway, through which contemporary lifestyle comes to the remote rural areas. Information and knowledge, in the new world, play the most important role in cultural and economic development of rural areas and in increasing the productivity in agriculture thus improving food security worldwide. There have been remarkable and rapid developments in computing and communication technologies, which offer exciting possibilities for rural communities to move into the information age. Access to information also carries the promise of empowering the rural population, enhancing the quality of their lives and increasing their social participation. On the negative side, it can deepen existing social stratifications and bring about new sources and new modes of social exclusion. The key step in the use of new technologies in sustainable agricultural and rural development is the value addition made to generic information to render it local context specific. Central to issues of use of information and communication technologies for rural development is the question of getting connected. Community Informatics begins with the perspective that access to the internet can provide a set of resources and tools that communities can use to attain their goals in such areas as local economic development, cultural affairs, entertainment, civic involvement, and community health. An excellent example of successful rural development project in Iran is provided by the SHAHKOOH and GHARNABAD project. 240 miles northeast of the capital, Shahkooh is a mountain village that lack an elementary school, has only one central outhouse, but has gone online. A native son, Ali Akbar JALALI (2004), is credited for raising the idea during a visit in 1999. Initial expenses, including the cost of the first computer bought by the villagers were raised by themselves. Some grants and charity funds were also tapped later on. A computer center is set up in the village mosque where volunteers teach the rural population. The goal is to teach computer skills to anyone interested among its 6,000 residents, from chador clad girls to working farmers. Of the overall Iranian population of about 70 million, only three percent are connected to the Internet. Close by is the village of Gharnabad. It has 2109 inhabitants (508 families). The literacy rate is 73 percent, including 763 women 30 of which have university education. The majority of its inhabitants are from Shahkooh, who reside in Gharnabad mostly during winters. Following the lead of Shahkooh, an ICT Service Center was established in Gharnabad through the efforts of the inhabitants. The rural community constructed a modern building, where there are several halls, an amphitheatre, and enough space and offices for future developments. Electronic government was among the first projects. Facilities and offices were donated to the government to get the necessary activities and services including good communications. Generally, the region has dry and humid climate, is surrounded by forests, and has high percent of humidity, which cause the 625 millimeters of rain each year. The main agricultural products are cotton, wheat, rice, potato, barley, and Soya. Ranchers grow cows. Many of the inhabitants have industrial and service oriented jobs. The first facilities in Gharnabad Service Center included communications, post, post bank, electronic shopping, insurance services provided via virtual offices, coffee net, electronic government, electronic commerce through which villagers sell their products, online education and electronic books, and virtual offices leased to various organizations. A growth center is responsible for providing specialist services connected with information technology and providing jobs through teleworking. The center is a non profit organization and provides for its expenses through its own earnings. It furnishes an opportunity not only for its founder, who is a professor in Iran University of Science and Technology, and his students, but also for other researchers and native sons who have university education to conduct action research projects. They train the villagers who, upon graduation, themselves become employed in the center. Salaries are supplied by the center's own income. The center now has orders for industrial design and other prestigious jobs from Iranian industries and is trying to attract international customers as well. The project has put the village on the map. It has attracted international attention. Business is booming. Plans to employ people from nearby villages are being drawn. The technological know how, the economic infrastructure, and the beauty of the neighboring rivers and forests are attracting many people and enterprises. Profit is also being made through capital appreciations and incoming tourism. And the government has begun considering the repetition of this success story: to use this experience as a pilot study and initiate similar development plans in other rural areas. A no less interesting example than the Shahkooh- Gharnabad project in Iran, is provided by a profit oriented entity, the GREENSTAR, which holds that the whole concept of philanthropy undergoes qualitative transformation in the cyberera (NORTH and SWIDER, 2001). Greenstar Development Worldwide, Inc. is based on the idea that international development can be made self-financing through electronic commerce. It will be profitable for people in emerging countries, for Greenstar's employees and shareholders, as well as to the earth, and to all its peoples. Greenstar's program will allow rural development planners to move beyond merely sustainable development to self-replicating development. The Greenstar solar powered community centers provide electricity, water purification, communications, education, support for telemedicine and employment. Greenstar works with people in traditional cultures to express the voice of the community to the world through original music, artwork, photography and video and other arts. It has completed pilot installations in a remote Bedouin settlement on the West Bank in the Middle East, in a small community in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, in the central India village of Parvatapur, and in a traditional Ashanti community in Ghana, as well as other centers in New Mexico, Brazil, Tibet, and South Africa. The initial capital investment by Greenstar in a single village is about $25,000, in equipment, installation, and creation of a digital culture program. It helps each community to develop products of cultural value, and to make that into market value through getting assistance from international specialists. Greenstar is focused on renewable energy, environment, clean water, distance learning, community health care, and telemedicine. It realizes that in many rural areas development is constrained by the lack of infrastructure. That is why it insists on electricity models that are decentralized and green. The present mode of power generation is considered as the equivalent of mainframe computer generation. The same is true with respect to telecommunications. Through the use of satellite connections Greenstar projects are in a position to help governments provide post and telephone services to remote areas by using their own provided bandwidth and electricity. Multiplicity and diversity of the small and highly distributed projects are also ideal for hedging against the economic and business risks that otherwise would have been prohibitive.
Use of information and communication technologies has been shown to be a powerful tool for transforming communal relationships and leveraging intangible capitals. Creative approaches in rural development were discussed through presenting diverse theoretical models and constructs, mostly taken from other domains and developed in other different frameworks, and providing examples of successful rural development projects. Technology can strengthen networks and interactions, increase the use of skills, knowledge, and abilities, where people become better decision makers, strengthen community initiative, integrate the business community in the local development social network, and promote growth toward increasingly diverse and healthy economies. Exchanges of information obviously encourage tapping into existing sources of local information, knowledge and experience, thereby decentralizing the power structure. The complexity of the problems facing us in contemporary world, and the rapid rate of change, excludes the possibility of ad initio constructing of all elements both in theory building and in development planning. This is a new era for constant recomposition and redeployment of preexisting subsystems in new contexts. This trend of collage, bricolage, quotation, parasitism, reuse, recontextualization, reterritorialization, and parodization is evident everywhere, even in contemporary art. No longer are meanings fixed. Iterated in a different context can and will change the signification. The level of actual interactivity of E-media determines the nature of their electronically mediated information flows and, by implication, the impact which E-media can have on rural development supporting multi-directional information dissemination. In the case of Shahkooh- Gharnabad project, there is the question of how dependent the whole enterprise is upon one person. Will the success story come to a sudden halt if its founder were to lose interest in it? On the other hand, criticism can be directed towards a lack of comprehensive planning and clear long term vision. It can be claimed, however, that the agile and adaptive style of Professor Jalali and the project as a whole, welcoming new ideas and novel courses changing the original plan as opportunities arise, is ideally suited to the needs of the project. Not only would a rigid plan lack robustness and be too sensitive to conditions and circumstances that can easily go wrong, but also fatal mistakes would prove inevitable when excursion is in unchartered territories. Creativity, like agility, is an important requirement for success. Rural conditions pose many difficulties hindering development. The best way to overcome those difficulties is through social creativity converting disadvantages into assets. New technologies, unlike older technologies favoring urban conditions because of the mass production paradigm, furnish excellent opportunities for harnessing rural particularisms. The main things to be taken advantage of are intangible capitals. However, the use of information and other new technologies in rural development has not always proven successful. Even in seemingly successful cases, revisionist examination unveils many drawbacks. Is the development project sustainable? If yes, what is developed and what is sustained? Does everybody enjoy the benefits of a successful and sustainable development project? Or does the project make social divisions more acute and even create new divisions and conflict? The problem of digital divide and the new haves and have nots has been the subject of many discussions. Intangible capitals are, after all, some other forms of capital: a social process involving progressive divisions. Do not development, economic boom, land price increases, new entrepreneurs, also bring about new social stratifications? New environmental problems? New social and economic risks? Our position is that both optimistic and pessimistic stances reflect essentialist attitudes towards technology. Technologies both present opportunity and pose danger. How can we plan to make the most of the former, while avoiding or minimizing the latter? Not merely through planning, we hold again. It is not possible to foresee all dangers and find the optimum route when complexity is so high, uncertainty so prevalent, and criteria so many and diverse. Past experience is a better guide. We have to rely on the sentiments built through previous cases, use the knowledge thus gained creatively in new contexts. When we have solved a problem that is going to be posed again and again, but always in a different manner, we have found a pattern. Many international and donor organizations are reflecting upon their past experience, trying to formulate common approaches, without necessarily using the pattern language methodology (SCHULER, 2002; CREECH and WILLARD, 2005; KIEV WORKSHOP, 2005). Systematic development of pattern language for rural development will present solutions to those recurring problems that can be used many times over, without ever doing the same thing twice. Opportunities for success and dangers that loom constitute the forces, in the presence of which suitable solutions are to be found. Documentation of the patterns including the problem, its context, the forces, the solution, the resulting context, and examples of its use will be of immense help in implementing innovative projects to meet contemporary challenges in rural development. The main core of the proposed approach to rural development is to harness possibilities offered by new technologies for activation of indigenous knowledge and intangible capitals existing in rural communities as a result of its own otherness, so as to achieve desired development results and overcome the persistence of underdevelopment.
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* This paper draws upon and is an elaboration and extension of the lecture entitled "How Science and Technology Should Meet the Challenge of Massive Customization: Higher Education at the Crossroads" delivered by the second author at the American University of Armenia on July 18, 2006. It also draws upon C. Lucas and E. Nercissians, "Social Creativity and Rural Development in Cyberera". In W. Trobbach, H. Hermann, and P. Wolff (eds.) Communication and Interdisciplinarity: A Challenge to Agricultural Science – Festschrift fur Dm. Siawuch Amini. Witzenhausen, Germany: Verlag: Kassel University Press, 2006; and E. Nercissians and C. Lucas, “Innovative Approaches to eDevelopment”. Invited paper presented at Global eContent Summit, Yerevan, Armenia, (Chair: Garegin Chougaszyan), October 6- 7, 2006.