Intermediate Technology

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A form of technology that differs from both indigenous technology and contemporary mass production, that is affordable and conducive to smaller scale production.


The concept from E.F. Schumacher, and is here described by Keven Carson of in a chapter of a forthcoming book on Decentralized Production Technology.

The quotes are from:Towards New Horizons by Pyarelal (Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, India, 1959), in Schumacher, p. 35., p. 36., pp. 153-54., p. 180.

Kevin Carson's draft chapter is here

"Schumacher contrasted "mass production" with "production by the masses":

The system of production by the masses mobilises the priceless resources which are possessed by all human beings, their clever brains and skilful hands, and supports them with first-class tools.... The technology of production by the masses, making use of the best modern knowledge and experience, is conducive to decentralisation, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve the human person instead of making him the servant of machines. I have named it intermediate technology to signify that it is vastly superior to the primitive technology of bygone ages but at the same time much simpler, cheaper, and freer than the super-technology of the rich.

Schumacher expressed the same concept elsewhere in slightly different words:

Such an intermediate technology would be immensely more productive than the indigenous technology (which is often in a state of decay), but it would also be immensely cheaper than the sophisticated, highly capital-intensive technology of modern industry.

In another attempt to articulate the principles of human scale technology, in the context of Third World development, Schumacher wrote:

The task... is to bring into existence millions of new workplaces in the rural areas and small towns. That modern industry, as it has arisen in the developed countries, cannot fulfil this task should be perfectly obvious. It has arisen in societies which are rich in capital and short of labour and therefore cannot possibly be appropriate for societies short of capital and rich in labour....

The real task may be formulated in four propositions:

First, that workplaces have to be created in the areas where the people are living now, and not primarily in metropolitan areas into which they tend to migrate.

Second, that these workplaces must be, on average, cheap enough so that they can be created in large numbers without this calling for an unattainable level of capital formation and imports.

Third, that the production methods employed must be relatively simple, so that the demands for high skills are minimised, not only in the production process itself but also in matters of organisation, raw material supply, financing, marketing, and so forth.

Fourth, that production should be mainly from local materials and mainly for local use."

Two Approaches to Intermediate Technology

Cited by Kevin Carson, see above.

From The Politics of Alternative Technology, p. 154.

"The first is the development of traditional indigenous production and servicing techniques. Productivity is increased through the application of scientific and technical knowledge often derived from elsewhere, but continuity with prevailing social and cultural conditions is maintained. The second source, at the other end of the spectrum, is the adaptation of technologies currently in use in the advanced industrial nations, but in a way that greatly reduces the scale of activity involved. It should also make technology suitable for a different capital/labour ratio, as well as for the use of local materials and other resources. Occasionally included in this category are technologies which have been developed and subsequently outgrown by the advanced countries during the course of industrialization, but which may now be considered appropriate to the economic and social conditions prevailing in the developing countries."