Research | History of Science and Technology
Illuminating technological innovation in Africa
In the border region where Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa meet, indigenous hunters have for centuries boasted impressive tools as well as an in-depth knowledge of the local ecology. Yet few studies of African technology have discussed these innovations, or their significance. Most research has been written from a Western perspective and focuses on the way Western technologies, such as guns and quinine, enabled colonial incursions.
In his new book, Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe, Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, associate professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, calls for a historical rethinking about the meaning, prevalence, and application of technological innovation in Africa.
Challenging the received wisdom
In this book, “I am challenging the idea that technology can only come from outside Africa, from the laboratories and factories,” Mavhunga says. “The general narrative of technology transfer — from the haves to the have-nots — is one I find troubling.”
Mavhunga draws upon his own experience growing up in the region to shed light on the African technology that has arisen from a deep experiential knowledge of the forests and regional ecology. He is also spurring debate on the trajectory of African technology and the basic policy questions around hunting and game reserves. Modern African governments, he argues, must seriously consider the cultural and political consequences of policies related to hunting.
Colonialism's lasting legacy
“Under colonialism, when the hunt was criminalized, all that knowledge was also criminalized,” Mavhunga says. “And when you criminalize that practice, you destabilize the place where the knowledge existed.”