Book hunger and the political economy of the South African booktrade : structural and policy constraints on the production and distribution of academic books.
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While 'book hunger' in Third World societies was regarded by a 'first generation' of theorists, working in the modernization/diffusion of innovation paradigm, as a cause of underdevelopment (and thus requiring the correction of problems relating to the undersupply of books to Third World countries by means of book aid policies, transfer of expertise and technology, and development of modern (western) publishing and distribution procedures and infrastructures), a 'second generation' of theorists working in the dependency/disassociation paradigm responded by insisting that 'book hunger' was an effect of the underdevelopment of peripheral economies, and a symptom of the debilitating cultural effects of the global economic order, with its skewed international distribution of knowledge, resources and capital. In recent approaches to the topic of 'book hunger' (which are wary of the sweeping dichotomies of dependency theory), 'book hunger' serves to describe a chronic shortage of books which results from complex structural inequities and antagonisms, from the distorting effects of global rationalization, as well as from local economic arrangements and policy mechanisms which do not adequately meet the knowledge and information needs of competing local cultural formations. 'Book hunger' is seen to derive from a range of causes, and to produce a range of effects, which correspond to the varying needs, resources, and conditions operative in - and the cultural media and knowledge infrastructures available within specific societies. Obviously, 'book hunger' is rooted to a considerable degree in the specific historical configurations and socioeconomic circumstances of specific countries. An understanding of complex, globally-interlinked socio-cultural, political and economic structures and practices is thus crucial to understanding 'book hunger' in South Africa. A survey of global and local environments within which scholarly books are produced and circulated - including South African distribution systems and knowledge dissemination networks - makes it possible to sketch an approach to South Africa's own 'book hunger:' which is sensitive to the complexity and the specificity of conditions in the local booktrade, and which is able to contribute to the complex debates on local knowledge infrastructures, strategies for book development and new forms of distribution which are now beginning to take place in South Africa.