Calestous Juma: Most good deeds have been punished.

‘Innovation And Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technology’: An African Scholar On The Fellows Who Hated Tractors, Margarine, And Coffee

US-based Kenyan academic Calestous Juma*, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, has just delivered massive labour of love.

His new book, Technology, Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technology, a 16-year study that has been published as a book Oxford University Press, says fear and perceptions of lost employment, identity, and power drive impediment to innovation, according to a release.

It was launched July 6 in Montreal at the 16th International Joseph A. Schumpeter Society Conference, Juma’s book, which draws on 600 years of controversies, chronicles the extraordinary measures taken by opponents to change, and the tenacity of entrepreneurs and technologists who overcame it.

Looked at today, some of the reasons for the opposition and the methods – from demonisation, rumours, slander, efforts to restrict use through legislation, and outright bans – sound too comical and almost unbelievable:

  • In 17th century Italy, coffee was called “Satan’s Drink” and “Junior Alcohol” in 20th century southern India.
  • In England, France, and Germany, coffee was said to cause sterility.
  • Calling refrigerated products “Embalmed Foods” had a chilling effect on consumers.
  • Swedes dubbed the early telephone the “Devil’s Instrument.”
  • Margarine was derided as “Bull Butter” in America and accused of causing sterility, male baldness, and stunting.

This promises to be a good read.

*Calestous Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs. He directs the School’s Science, Technology, and Globalisation Project. He is author of The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa (Oxford University Press, 2011, 2015). His next book is tentatively entitled How Economies Succeed: Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.


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