Untangling the Technology-society Knot: An Engineer’s Social Scientific Observations of the Post-Earthquake Reconstruction Process in Rural Nepal
This paper considers how earthquake housing technologies emanating from engineering theories have met with the social realities of rural villages in the process of reconstructing houses hit by the 2015 Nepal earthquakes. The scale and urgency of the process where several hundred thousand of houses belonging to individuals in villages need to be constructed within a short time with direct involvement of state creates an unprecedented interface between technology and society. This is best exemplified by the inevitable interaction between engineers and rural community members. While engineers who work in villages become the vehicle of the techno-legal regime established by the state through building codes and construction compliance guidelines, rural residents never subjected to such regulation and technological prescriptions in the past have a hard time integrating them into their life styles. The incompatibility is aggravated by the fact that engineers are hardly trained in social needs, constraints and communication; the government guidelines do not necessarily address the local context; and there is a lack of trained craft persons who actually translate the guidelines into actual implementation. I observed these challenges during my yearlong engagement as an engineer in the reconstruction of houses in rural areas and documented the perspectives from both engineering and social scientific perspectives. The paper also explores potential ways out: how these knots in the technical-social interface can be untangled and straightened with proper understanding of how different forms of expertise in reconstruction would and should work in tandem.