Investigating Technology-Society Links in Nepal: An Eclectic Proposition
The proposed panel will investigate technology-society linkages in Nepal. It aims to be a blueprint for similar productive enquiries into the changes in material and natural endowment of poor societies all over the world. Standard accounts frame the relationship within tools-and-transfer approach, which assumes that technologies (not all, but ‘sexy’ ones thought as typically linked to modernity) were instrumental in bringing revolutionary changes in these societies and that the most fruitful research is the question about dynamics of their introduction and diffusion in the host landscape. The approach suits those modernising elite, which wish to understand the ‘barriers’ and ‘constraints’ in order to remove them and usher their poor fellow countrymen into (post)modern world.
The papers in the panel contrastingly, focus on existing use and not merely on innovation or early diffusion of two technologies of great relevance to Nepal, the micro-hydro (MHP) and the Internet. The latter approaches are indeed of great value as they help us understand the origins of technologies in the Nepali society and with what promises and through what sorts of institutions they were brought into Nepali landscape. The shift in focus, in contrast, helps us bring technology back to the everyday and to the streets, shops and homes, where it truly belongs, from academies and laboratories, where it was imprisoned by the military-industry-bureaucracy complex by today’s analysts.
The first paper on the state and history of the operation of the micro-hydros in Gulmi shows why operation and maintenance costs materially influence the performance of the MHPs, and hence its promised social and economic benefits. The second paper on the rise and the demise of the High Level Commission on Information Technology (HLCIT) shows a centralized and powerful body alone does not ensure technology development in Nepal whose bureaucracy has perhaps organically evolved from a distributed authority, distributed responsibility (dadr) model, and not from a centralised authority, distributed responsibility model (cadr) as the proponents of the HLCIT assumed. The third paper in the panel conducts ethnographic enquiries into the landscape of the major stakeholders of the Internet in Nepal. The paper argues that while mere perception of the major players about a functioning (supposedly) techno-centric future of Nepali society is driving the real and perhaps irreversible changes in the way-of-things, that perception has been built without even preliminary empirical studies of a significant scale.
The papers show how grounded knowledge of the technology-in-use helps develop a critical analysis of the top-down, innovation-driven, techno-centric visions that have characterised much of the technology development in Nepal. Around the papers, the panel will help discuss the following themes:
(a) What sociological and historical approaches can better comprehend the nature of technology-society links in Nepal?
(b) What can the history of institutional landscape that was built for technology-transfer and dissemination tell us about the technology-society interactions in the country?
(c) How will the focus on technology-in-use further the critical reappraisal of the social and economic promises of the ‘new’ technologies? (d) How should sociologists, anthropologists, historians and technologists proceed to undertake science and technology studies in Nepal?