The square kilometre array and local development mandates in the Karoo

SOURCE: Journal of Southern African Studies
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
TITLE AUTHOR(S): M.Gastrow, T.Oppelt
DEPARTMENT: Inclusive Economic Development (IED)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 11114
HANDLE: 20.500.11910/15070

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'Big science' lies at the foundation of accelerating global technological change and is widely seen to be positive for global development. In this article, we problematise this assumption by focusing on the effect of a big science project on local development in the context of a marginalised region of South Africa, the semi-arid Karoo. We undertake a normative analysis of the development roles and responsibilities of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. We examine how development mandates are conceived of by the science institution and by local communities, and why these conceptions are aligned or diverging. We find that the SKA local development mandate is disputed. On the one hand, it is distinct from the universalist techno-economic argument that underpins the SKA mandate at the global level and the innovation and growth argument that underpins its mandate at the national level. At the local level, the perception of the SKAs development mandate is shaped by both significant benefits and significant losses that are distinct from the telescopes impact on the planet and the country. The local development mandate is tacit, must engage with local social and economic complexities and operate under significant budget constraints. At the same time, local perceptions of the development mandate can best be understood through the prism of local interests, including economic, social and cultural interests. Consequently, there are diverse perceptions of what the SKAs local development mandate is and should be. Misalignment of perceptions has led to strained relations between the SKA and local stakeholders, suggesting that the SKA and other big science projects with a footprint in the developing world may benefit from social science research that unpacks local social complexity in relation to development and engagement strategies.