Brooklyn Law Review


This article uses a sociotechnical systems approach to advocate for an alternative way of thinking about the role of innovation in international development efforts, specifically those focused on environmental sustainability and a post-carbon world. This approach views technology and society as inextricably linked, highlighting how particular values, norms, individual rights and responsibilities, social practices and relationships, and aspects of political culture are embedded in the design, development, implementation, and use of technology. Using the example of clean cookstoves, this article argues that technologies customarily deployed to achieve international development goals are embedded in particular values, assumptions, and social structures that together make up a “dominant approach to innovation.” This dominant approach, which reflects Western attitudes towards science, technology, and markets, is often inappropriate for developing world circumstances. This article suggests that two grassroots innovation systems developed in India—by the Honeybee Network and the Self-Employed Women’s Association—provide us with some clues as to how we might rethink innovation to achieve development in lower income contexts. These grassroots innovation systems encourage technological development among lower income, often socially marginalized individuals with limited formal education, suggesting that these technologies might be more useful for the local public interest. They also encourage widespread dissemination of these innovative ideas in order to facilitate implementation and encourage innovation within the community. By challenging our traditional understandings of innovation, innovators, and the relationship between technology and societal benefit, these grassroots innovation systems offer a viable path to engage lower income communities in successful innovation for a post-carbon world.