Topic for Debate
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
A conference cannot claim to be genuinely global if it consists largely of debates between Europe and America, Australia and Japan. What about the rest of the world?? Attendance at International Conferences is dominated by people from developed, mostly western countries. When scholars from the developing world -- especially Ph.D. students and young teaching staff do attend, it is with the implicit assumption that they go to learn, in a way or another, from the more "advanced First World"? This has been stated by many scholars from developed and developing worlds. Why cannot the case be the opposite! or is it really the opposite but not acknowledged! Many disciplines such as urban conservation and preservation, historical analyses, architectural education, environment-behavior studies, ecological and sustainable design practices...etc. are adopted and aggressively researched and practiced by the developed world eventhough they have roots in the developing world. Also, the presence of scholars from developing countries is often minimal. It is believed that cost for travel and attendance is not the only reason.

Now, the issue that this discussion attempts to raise is: Can the (developing) teach the (developed) in international conferences, has the (developing) have something to offer to the (developed) in these gatherings especially in those disciplines and branches of studies that have nothing to do with information technology and communication? It would be useful to raise a cross-cultural discussion on this topic!

Ashraf Salama
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
Can the (developing) teach the (developed) in international conferences, yes definitely. Specially that most of the conferences tackle problems that either are in developing countries or are caused by developing countries. So I believe the developing countries offer the practical side of the problem and can offer to show and discuss other aspects that the developed countries would never realize from a distance.

The problem is that the developing countries does not look at it this way, it is as if their contribution isnot important and the as if the international conferences would come up with miracles that would help them too without their contribution.

I think this discussion will also lead us to a very important point and that is the research constitutions in the developing countries, the atmosphere of research that bring up people attending the international conferences and contributing to it and not only learning from it.
Hebatalla Abouelfadl
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
Thanks Heba for your posting. You hilghted some critical points on the value of research in the developing world. I hope we get more postings in this thread.
Ashraf Salama
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
Dear Ashraf,

Yes, there is a case for questioning the nature of conferences, the quality of interactions and the directions of communication.

But then we need to question the basic terms " developed" and "developing" at some stage.

Can a society that produces the maximum garbage, recylcles the least amount of waste and spends the highest amount on weaponary be called developed?

Which is the first world ? Why is it called the first world? We are used to terming our parts of the world as Third World. We were stunned by a profound statement by a visiting American scholar Dr. Havlick when he said that the Indians, Chinese and Egyptians constitute the First World, for they are the first civilizations. They have their distinctive cultures, arts, architecture and have laid the basis for scientific and philosophical developments.

Well, the International Conferences on Humane Habitat (ICHH) that we have been hosting since 1999 at Rizvi College of Architecture, may be cited as examples of more equitable and open learning among the participants from "developed" and "developing" countries / regions.

What I have noticed is that there are some delegates and speakers ( they come from so called developed and developing world )who come to these local / national / international conferences to deliver their messages /lectures / presentations and have no time to interact with other delegates. I feel sorry for them, since they do not realise what they are missing, learning from other delegates! The conferences where the all the delegates spend the time together interacting, however small the number may be and whatever may be the composition of delegates vis a vis developed/developing, are more relevant, satisfying and meaningful.e.g. EDP World Society of Ekistics conference in 1995.

The issue that is raised is interesting.
My answer is: Yes, the delegates from "developing" countries / region have a lot to offer to the delegates from the "developed" countries in almost all the disciplines including information technology and communications. e.g. Who taught the concept of zero to whom or who learnt the concept of zero from whom?

The extent of teaching that is possible is equal to the openness and the keenness of learners.

with warm regards,
Akhtar Chauhan
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
According to me any developed individual should put forward gained knowledge transparently, the seeker or adopt shall learns on it's own, well cofferences anywhere allow ideas to be free to float, why worry about the location/status/interface/knowledge paradigam etc.
Dushyant Nathwani
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
Dear Akhtar;

I see in the postings different concerns. Heba is introducing a contextual issue that concerns itself with problems of Developing Countries or caused by them!

You have raised two important points that I see helpful to this discussion A) the quality of interaction, and B) the direction of interaction. Your questionning is really excellent "Which is the first world and why? and Which is the third world and why?" I just want to say here that in that society that produces maximum garbage, recylcles the least amount of waste we find the largest number of organizations, associations, councils that promote the opposite, and this seems contradicting. It is the society that has a surge in the development of green knowledge.

The third point that you intrdocued is crucial; the interaction in conferences outside the auditorium scene. Without it, I believe conferences become value-less. Interaction needs to be viewed as an important operational objective of any conference. Many connference organizers and associations have realized this and started to introduce the "Interactive Poster Sessions" format, where participants display their work in a poster format in the main gathering areas of the venue and discuss it with conference delegates. Also, many conferences organized in the nineties by Aga Khan Trust for Culture and other international associations took the form of "Workshop" or "Colloquium" to increase the "interactivity."

Just a note to Mr. Nathwani: You are talking about what is supposed to happen or what ought to happen not about what is actually happening. The worry comes from "How are young scholars from developing countries viewed by their colleagues from other parts of the world?"

If we are saying that conferences are organized to promote interaction and dialogue and exchange of ideas, the case is not always like that. Dialogue requires equality "Participants involved should be equal in a way or another." The statement made by Gregory Baum may delineate my point: (True dialogue takes place only among equals. There is no dialogue across the boundaries between masters and servants; for master will listen only as long as his power remains intact, and the servant will limit his communication to which he cannot be punished.) Baum (1977) argues that to recommend a dialogue in a situation of inequality is a deceptive ideology of powerful who wishes to persuade the powerless that harmony and understanding are possible within a group of people without changes in the status of power...

I think it is not that simple that we assume that conference will be a free exchange of ideas as long as one party believes in its superiority in all aspects of life, knowledge, and science,...etc. Then, what is the role of the other party?

My best, A-
Ashraf Salama
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
Dear Dr. Salama,

I agree with your concern about conference attendance in general. Being from a developing country myself, I have seen little or close to no representation from our part of the world directly at international conferences or seminars. However, there is a sizable community of 'third world' scholars currently researching in the 'first world' who should not be discounted from your concern. Having said that, it seems that such people hold the key to shortening the gap between the two camps.

Although I would like to think that there is mutual respect between scholars and researchers irrespective of their backgrounds, the low representation of cases for the developing world often causes insecurity when people from the west come to the east and seem to offer solutions for a context they are unfamiliar with. I may be digressing from the topic but my point is that, the divide is reciprocal both ways. Whether it is blaming it on the lack of resources or other reasons, the developing world needs to be secure about their knowledge and find ways to interact with the international community. Being on the cusp of both ends, I have often tried to organize forums for collaboration and dissemination of research - coupled with the air of superiority of my western counterparts, my fellow researchers from the developing world have not shown much initiative either mostly manifested through insecurity and closed mindedness. I also feel at a loss to comment that a certain lack of research culture and ethics in the developing world makes bridging the gap more difficult (abuse of the internet and plagiarism is rampant in most schools.) I would like to tease out your concern about information technology and communication. India is a developing country and a forerunner in IT, however the paradox is that it happens to be the largest IT sweatshop for the developed world. My point is that the developing world has tons to offer but is obviously not doing something right.

In conclusion, I do believe that we as the developing have a lot to offer but it is certainly not a race to prove ourselves or to be acknowledged. With efforts and initiatives lacking from our end, it would be difficult to gain recognition. I rate highly the efforts of those who have travelled to the west (as conference attendees, researchers, students, professors etc.) and established credibility for the east and continue to do so in hopes that the first second and third worlds could collapse into just one.

Anubhav Gupta
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
Dear Mr. Gupta;
Thank you for your well elaborated and thoughtful posting. Yes, third world scholars who live in the west have a lot to offer. The mutual respect is supposed to be there. However, how can it be measured (or how can we know)! A closer look at many conference papers presented and published by scholars either from the developing or from the developed world reveals that people rarely refer to any writings or references created or published in a developing context, assuming they have access to them, or sometimes written by scholars from the developing world but published in a developed context. What does this mean? Is it an issue of credibility or reliability? Or, is it the preconception that the developing world in recent histroy used to a consumer of knoweldge not a producer of knowledge? I guess these are serious questions that need to be looked at. Sure, scholars from developing countries who travelled for international conferences are contributing dramatically to the issue of creadibility, positively of course. But why do not we see it as a race (as an incentive); there are other races (hidden) between Japan and America, and America and Europe. Here, I wonder when the developing can participate in these developed races?

My best,
Ashraf Salama
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
I know that I am bringing an old post back to life. But I couldn't help it after having read about the discussions on developing and developed worlds in relations to conferences and research.
I was a student in the developing world and now am a research student in the developed world. The biggest advantage I see in the developed world for research is the resources. I was studying in a school with one of the best equipped libraries for architecture in India. If I were to compare with the library here, it is nothing.

Research needs a proper environment. Many people in the so called 'developing' world are so busy tackling real issues around them (and rightly so), that they don't have enough distance to critically evaluate the issue at hand. This is one of the reasons why I see a lot of Indian and other Asian students go to American universities and conduct research on their native countries! I always felt strange that this had to be done. But now I realize that both distance as well as resources are very important reasons for this occurrence.

I would also like to add that this phenomenon is seen especially in the professional field where one has to choose between researching about it and actually doing it. However, this, in no way implies that people from the 'developing' world are in any way incapable of actually conducting meaningful research.
Vishwanath Kashikar
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
Dear Vishwanath,

(I'm sorry if I'm going off the original topic but I would like to respond specifically to Vishwanath's comment)

I do not agree with your sweeping generalization that "in the developing are so busy tackling real issues around them (and rightly so), that they don't have enough distance to critically evaluate the issue at hand". In fact, I find just the opposite: that the more 'developed' a country is, the more attention is given to critically evaluating something as opposed to just "progressing" at any price. Hence, sociologists are not looked upon, for example, as less worthy then engineers, doctors, business people, etc.

In terms of why people who come to the "developed world" from the "developing world" end up studying their native country; I have different reasons to offer: First, the nostalgia for home is the unsurmountable gut feeling. And once the student sees his own country/culture through the "outsider" lens: (i.e. as exotic and 'interesting'), then it is inevitable that they will end up researching home while abroad, falling comfortably into the position of the 'native informant'.

This position of the 'native informant' is dangerous for several reasons. First, it is based on the assumption that someone who is from a particular place knows everything about that place. Second, it allows the 'international student' just to repeat what they (think) know from back home and not develop any kind of new information because a) it will sound as "new" and "interesting" to everyone around him b) her/his advisors will often not have the local knowledge to edit/teach/criticize him c)it's a comfortable position for the un-self-motivated student to fall back on. And the student leaves back for home without having done any original research.

Of course, there's always that student with deep nationalist feelings and self-motivation who wants to absorb all the information s/he can, to be able to 'go back and help our country' with the knowledge gained in the "developed world". And often (Fanon talks very nicely about this type of "native intellectual"); this person has a romanticized view of their own country. (Ph.D. students, I believe, are generally an exception to this categorization.)

I find also that people often study what they (think they) are simply because that's what they find interesting... Unless, of course, they are really open-minded, or, as some see it, strange. That's why most scholars of Irish studies will be Irish and most scholars of Indian history will be Indian (or someone from a country with colonial history in India).

Ozgur Basak Alkan
Conference attendance: Do the developing have something to offer to the developed?
Dear Ozgur,

Thanks for the detailed comments on my post.

I would have to agree with many of your points raised on students studying abroad. Your opinions on why students choose a topic from their native countries, is perfectly true. I also agree that it is dangerous in the sense that a lot of knowledge which is produced as a result of this, is often mediocre and goes unnoticed because the supervisors themselves are not familiar with the latest developments in the native country of the student.

I didn't quite get what you mean by "that the more 'developed' a country is, the more attention is given to critically evaluating something as opposed to just "progressing" at any price", as that is exactly what I am saying as well. It is only when a country gets developed, that more attention is paid to evaluation as opposed to progressing at any price. That is why in places in china and India where rapid urbanization is taking place, there is so much work that people do things before they have the time to think of the larger implications of their designs. There are very few practitioners who are theorists, in India (I would like to add, that I am only saying this in comparison to Europe or America and not in the absolute sense.)

Many people end up studying abroad simply because libraries in India are not at all well equipped to allow for research. I know this might ruffle many feathers, and I also know that the fault doesn't lie with the teachers. In fact, they are aware of the need for better libraries and constantly strive to get maximum funding for purchase of books. But let us not even begin comparing any architectural library in India to any architectural library even in the state universities of America. (Again, this is not to glorify any region in particular, its simply a matter of resources). Thus, any person who wants to do scholarly studies (as opposed to empirical studies) has to move out of India or be sufficiently rich enough to afford books on their own.
Vishwanath Kashikar


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