Culture & Technology


Cultural Review Of Technology: A Focus On Civil Engineering In The Community


Ananda D Moonasingha

Abstract: This paper reviews the ideologies of technological determinism and the social constructionism of technology; and also some civil engineering aspects that manifest profound cultural affinity and community nexus. Relevant global issues are also embraced. The concept of Corporate culture is an efficient alternative to bureaucracy for organizational management. Technology depends on stabilization for determinism. Appropriate technology of sanitation, water supply and irrigation depend on social contribution of maintenance, emphasizing the dependence of technology on social constructionism. The advocacy of mass transit to solve urban traffic congestion, and traffic calming to improve residential neighborhoods, also confirm the case for social shaping of technology, since these concepts represent reversal of the car culture trajectory. Technology and culture are interdependent and shape each other.


            Culture is generally viewed as the norms, beliefs, values and customs, embracing the aspects of the society like – the family life, religious rituals, gender, agriculture, heritage, arts, music, clothes, food and so on. Among a wide range of connotations of culture, like the high culture of fine art, popular culture, the mass culture of mass production and consumption; the organizational culture and the Corporate culture are key concepts germane to this discourse. Culture is shared meanings and practices of the society.

             Technology is composed of the physical artifacts, knowledge and know-how, people, facilities and organizations engaged in technological activities. Technologists claim the culture of societies is shaped by the nature of the technologies they adopt and associate. Conversely the sociologists argue that the technology in our societies are shaped by and mirror the widespread cultural characteristics and features of our societies. From the above two ideologies arise the paradigm that technology and culture interact and are mutually constitutive. The relationship between culture and technology is a heterogeneous symbiosis.

            The paradigm of Corporate culture is a favourable alternative to the bureaucracy for achievements of efficiency and progress in the technological communities. Corporate culture is a form of organizational, management and production culture originally evolved to improve the organizational efficiency to fend the competition from new industrial economies of the east.

            The environment, globalization, technology transfer and appropriate technology are topics associated with the current theme. Among other topical issues, mainly the tropical public health engineering, irrigation settlement project management, and control of car culture have been reviewed to portray the cultural impact of civil engineering in the community.





            Generally the culture is norms, values and customs of the society. In the context of cultural analysis, culture is production and creation of meaning. Meaning is intrinsic to culture (Gay - 1997a) . Shared meanings, values and social practices in the society form the basis of culture. Meanings are constructed by representation through language. Language means any system of representation including photographs, writing, drawings, bodily expressions, clothes and others that enable us to represent whatever existing or imaginary in terms of meaningful concept, image or idea. Meaning is a relationship between a sign and the response it elicits in a given social setting (Stamper - 1973) . Meaning making lies at the interface between culture and technology (Gay - 1997a) . Basically the culture is a way of life.


Technology and Science


            Technology denotes the knowledge, the scientific and artistic base, the skills and the means of production. The means of production have two components of institutional resources and physical artefacts. The artefact component can be divided in to two categories of factory equipment, plants, and the domestic artefacts and utensils. The term technology is often used to represent any one of the above elements like a tool, piece of machinery or means of practical art like, an engineering concept or some of them together. The dictionary definitions of technology include discourse or treatise on an art or arts, the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts. During the early periods of technological development as in the industrial revolution, the technological skills were associated with arts and crafts rather than science. This also explains the technology of ancient civilizations including the hydraulic civilizations as paradigms of art. Paradigm is a universally recognized system of scientific rules and ethos that provide a model for a community of practitioners and is associated with the history of science (Kuhn - 1970, Hall - 1997). The concept of paradigm is also applicable to the arts (Hall - 1997), and hence to technology which is a product of both science and arts.

             Some descriptions of and reference to technology include the following. ‘Technology is medium through which physical laws some of which we can learn through science shape the course of human events’ (Bimber in Smith and Marx - 1995) . ‘Science is about the discovery of truth, whereas technology is about the application of truth’ (Bijker and Pinch -  1987) . ‘Scientific knowledge is embedded in the theory and rules; problems are supplied to gain facility in their application. Every civilization which we have records has possessed a technology, an art, a religion, a political system and laws. But only the civilizations that descend from Hellenic Greece have possessed more than the most rudimentary science. The bulk of scientific knowledge is a product of Europe in the last four centuries’ (Kuhn - 1970) . Scientists discover laws of nature, characterize and formulate techniques to emulate these phenomena – the technological entrepreneurs turn these into commercial artefacts and technologies.


Technology and Culture

            There are two schools of paradigms that theorise the relationship between the technology and culture. These are the ideologies of technological determinism and the social constructionism. The technological determinism claims that the nature of culture is determined by and dependent on the prevailing technologies and technology is cause of social and cultural changes (Mackay - 1997) . Technology shapes the society, by shaping the way we use and associate technology at home, in the factory and in other aspects of our daily life as in transport, communication and leisure.

              In contrast the social constructionism claims the culture and society shape the technology. Social constructionism argues that the social and cultural forces constructed of cultural, economic, political, heterogeneous networks involving the actors of engineers, architects, managers, advertisers, consumers, regulators, bureaucrats, and interest groups determine the technical change (Smith and Marx - 1995, Mackay - 1997, Bijker and Law - 1992). A dominant feature of social construction of technology is its cultural analysis based upon the concept of encoding artefacts with meaning, defining and making meanings by interest groups and appropriation by users. Sociology of technology is in its infancy (Bijker et al - 1987).

             Technology is dependent on society for allocation of financial, human and material resources; integrating, social, economic, political, environmental and technical relations – for making necessary adjustments and links with market forces and cultural traits such as habits, practices, skills and needs. Within the two opposing theories there is a third way that takes the middle path, which explains that social and technology interact and both shape and are shaped by each other. The social factors and networks interact with promoters and constrains, science and technology, and facilitate life styles and, shape the culture and society. Social skills in management, public participation and the like are constituents common to both technology and sociology.

             The social groups or users determine the designs by selecting the designs that solve their problems, they want solved by the artefact and fulfill their desires [Hughes in Smith and Marx - 1995) . The social groups include institutions, and organizations as well as organized or unorganized groups or individuals (Bijker et al - 1987). The consumers give meaning to artefacts by appropriation and commodification. Appropriation means a creative process of consumption where the consumers have to plan or design and actively engage or appreciate, enjoy or challenge to make the artefact, goods or services achieve a new meaning of consumption (Gay - 1997, Mackay - 1997) . Commodification implicates an interaction between consumers and producers where producers make new products or different versions of old products as a result of consumers’ activities in an ongoing cycle (Gay - 1997a) . The designers, advertisers, market researchers, and proponents as cultural intermediaries encode artefacts with cultural meanings. The visual look, tactile feel, ease and safety, ergonomics of operation and aesthetics give cultural meanings to artefacts. In civic design, town planning and embodying aesthetics in civil engineering, the architects reflect the cultural associations of technology and society. A whole range of goods and services are culturally encoded and inscribed with signifying practices, meanings and associations by cultural intermediaries and consumers.

              Technology has to be stabilized and appropriated by the consumers or consumer groups. Economic stabilization indicates economic existence of an artefact – its having a market. Reification implies socio-cultural existence (Bijker and Pinch - 1987) . A technological artefact is good and meaningful as much as the skill and meaning of its appropriation by the consumer. Technology that is developed and matured to shape the culture and society is socio-technical. Technology reaches stabilization through a process of pluralistic, political, social, economic, technical and cultural discourse. Dynamic socio-technical systems composed of heterogeneous networks of human and nonhuman actors are known as the seamless web (Bijker and Pinch - 1987) . The complete acquiescence occurs when society has adopted as its own the technologist’s standards of judgment (Bimber in Smith and Marx - 1995) . Ones the technology has stabilized, established and shaped the society, the society is dependent on that technology. That technology shapes the society such that social responses are geared to make that technology is reliable, safe and dependable. Technology depends on the society and its culture for maintenance and sustainability.

               Technology itself is partly technological and partly sociological. The means of production are one of the components of technology. The Marxist term ‘forces of production’ embodies the means of production and the labour power. The means of production are the items like factory space, instruments of production and the raw materials; and the labour power consists of the strength, skill, knowledge etc. (Bimber, Misa in Smith and Marx - 1995) . The actors and elements of assembly line embrace the social context – the management strategies, modes of labour control, as well as of mass consumption. ‘The defining centre of the conceptual constellation is technical’ (Williams in Smith and Marx - 1995) . The modern capitalism differs to 19th century Marx’s ideology for the changes in immiserisation and polarization (Hart - 1985) . Both the capitalism and forces of production are vulnerable to the adverse impacts of globalization, market and monetary forces. The productivity and goals of public sector organizations and competitive private sector enterprises are not the same. Though, public sector organizations in market economies are increasingly under pressure to achieve some production efficiencies, thus adopt competitive practices. In the privatized monopolies like gas, water and electricity utilities, a regulator is involved to control the efficiency of infrastructure management, resource utilization, customer care, pricing structure, investment strategy, returns and the incentives for investors.

               An early example of the technological determinism is railroads in America that necessitated technologies such as telegraph and large-scale steel manufacturing plants, labour, and financial institutions. In a different economy, large irrigation projects will necessitate marketing, transport, credit, insurance, agricultural extension, education, health, service infrastructure like water and electricity, and the cultural change that will generate the necessary maintenance culture without which the irrigation project will decline. Another perspective of technological determinism is the supplanting order of steam train over canal boats, and the following motor vehicle over the steam train (Lowson - 1999) . The determinism in this example is not purely technological, but constitutes the economics, market forces, user values such as convenience, flexibility and speed (Elliot in Boyle et al -  1977, Bimber in Smith and Marx - 1995) . The time has come to revert to the technology of railway systems, as the sustainable transport in the cities; an evident departure from the trajectory of technological determinism of car culture.

            Sociology of science claims that knowledge is a social construction and scientific knowledge and technological practices are moulded by a process of social construction and regulation driven by social interests of participants (Bijker and Law - 1992). In this age of globally sweeping information technology, most knowledge based system analysis and, decisions making have been facilitated in artificial knowledge based expert systems. This has necessitated everyone engaged in these knowledge-based professions to be computer literate and gain skills in using this expert system software. The improved performance is dependent on the skill of using the software as well as the process of input, interpretation and appropriation of the output.

            There is a close relationship between the modern culture and the media; the technological means by which much of that culture is produced, circulated, used or appropriated. The new media technology includes the corporate institutions which manufacture, sell and distribute globally the means and meanings which sustain the cultural processes as well as their economic role and functions (Gay - 1997a). The above representation shows how culture permeates across all manner of life styles and practices such as sanitation, agriculture, transport, soap opera, finance and electronic mail. The know-how of using the new media is sometimes called social technology. Each new technology such as high-tech, information technology, biotechnology, and appropriate technology as well as the associated financial and managerial organizations, sustain culture and produces or reproduces cultures. This scenario manifests the meaning of seamless-web of social construction of technology. Technology is neither purely technical nor purely social. It is socio-technical. Cultural meanings and practices are primarily the product of economic relations, forms of social organization and technical processes (Gay -  1997b) .

Organizational Culture

            The organizational culture embodies the organizational and management policies, relationships, values, meanings, objectives, practices, means and procedures of production, employment and development of staff, quality assurance, welfare and so on, and how these are conveyed. Global corporations may adopt its own culture of production and technology to suit the local cultures and economies, and the global markets so as to take advantage of local resources and cultures and maintain their standards and policies as best as possible.

            Corporate culture represents a management approach that stresses organizational flexibility and responsiveness that the traditional bureaucratic organization lacks, and claims to realize the objectives of management without resistance of staff. An approach that involves educating and inculcating the staff of the goals, to inspire and actualize the corporate aims, values and objectives and means to achieve production and service standards, competitiveness, meaning of employment and so on; and gains worker commitment as a liberated, informal cultural practice. Corporate culture relies on organizational consensus and harmony; and is not immune from the pragmatic and perceptual flaws of organizational management (Gay - 1997b). Corporate culture is geared to achieve the goals of the corporate leaders, through internalization of guiding values, norms by everyone down the line; and promotes a sense of belongingness in participants (Ray – 1994). The Corporate culture permeates through the whole organization focusing on the management and the workers. Corporate culture could contain an element of bureaucracy within it, when and where conducive to its objectives and goals. Corporate culture


            Pollution control and environmental impacts became a crucial issue in the latter years of the 20th century – though, the early Alkali act was in 1863. Oil crisis in the nineteen seventies gave an impetus to develop technologies for fuel-efficient and less polluting motor vehicles. Simultaneously the campaign for environmental protection generated the public momentum enough to strengthen the antipollution legislation and the requirement of environmental impact assessment technology (Hughes in Smith and Marx - 1995).

            In 1972, the United Nations Conference on human environment recognized the concern for interacting impacts of environment, human settlement, natural resources and pollution. In the successive UN conferences since 1987 Montreal protocol, the impacts of greenhouse gasses and global warming have been focused (Brenton – 1994). In the UN conference in 1992 the term ‘sustainable development’ was introduced (Feis - 1994). The sustainable development has been defined as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’. This policy encourages renewable energy technologies, conservation of ecosystems, transport systems that do not cause congestion and irredeemable air pollution, minimizing the emission of greenhouse gasses contributing to the global warming, preventing the contamination of groundwater resources and the like.

            There is no natural technological trajectory in history any particular technological field. It should be seen as a product of contingency (Bijker and Law - 1992). The trajectory also reflects the socially constructed characteristics acquired in the past when they were designed (Belt and Rip in Bijker et al - 1987). This trajectory is temporal and supplanted in time by new paradigms. For example in the UK there are clean burn coal technologies that have not been commercially adopted, for that alternative fuel burning systems like gas power stations and their improved technologies are more commercially and environmentally attractive.

            Public participation of individuals and interest groups affected by development projects at planning stage enables to moderate and compensate some of the adverse impacts by remedial means or better planning, design or choosing better technologies. National and transnational rules, regulations and directives provide guidance towards better pollution control for cleaner air, rivers and beaches. These, direct industries to adopt alternative technologies representing economic, environmentally and socio-politically permissible technologies at a given time in history and geographic location.

            Health and safety legislation, factory acts and construction design and management regulations stipulate responsibilities and duties of personnel and parties involved such as employers, designers, promoters and contractors involved in technological activities, towards maintaining good standards of safety and health. Regulation is an intrinsic element of the culture.


            Globalization is about exchange and transfer of trade and technologies, economic and cultural identities thus transferring differing cultures, and economic activities of transnational corporations across the global frontiers (Gay -1997b).

            The process of globalization dates back to the times of the European seafarers landed in other continents and established trade links followed by many centuries of colonial rule. Advances in communication and information technology, a trend of free market economic liberalization and local global nexus of global corporations and aid agencies marked the end of 20th century and the beginning of 21st century globalization. Technologies are transferred to the Third World countries by trade, establishing joint ventures, licensing arrangements, and education and training programs.

            Human resources are transferred globally in all directions. In parallel with conventional technologies, the ‘appropriate technology’ and ‘intermediate technology’ are researched, developed and transferred to developing countries. The global financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and other multilateral agencies like the World Trade Organization are major partners of the new globalization, equally dominant as the colonial political rulers, without representing such political power. These global institutions and other regional counterparts and bilateral agencies, through financial aid and the accompanying economic constraints, and of course the technology, shape the culture of the Third World societies. The Internet is a modern addition to the agents of new globalization, performing in both the virtual community and the real world.

 Appropriate Technology

            Appropriate technology is a term coined to represent the technology suitable for low income, low technologically skilled, low resource, societies in the developing countries. Appropriate technology broadly signifies; a method or technique that involves low capital cost, low investment cost per work place and unit output, organizational simplicity, adaptable and provides a service or quality acceptable to a particular social or cultural environment at least economic cost, uses local materials available where ever possible, energy efficient, creates jobs employing local skills and labour, can be understood, controlled and maintained by local community, matches the need in complexity and scale, and improves the quality of the life (Kalbermatten et al - 1980, Carr - 1985, Hazeltine and Bull - 1999). Most of the above factors tend to compromise with quality and convenience, and requires regular maintenance. As an exception appropriate technology does not have to be necessarily low-cost or low-tech, provided the community can pay for the capital and long-term service costs, and maintain (USAID - 1980). Also as an exception some technological plans formulated for needs of the usually run down less privileged environments in the developed countries are also regarded as appropriate technology (Hazeltine and Bull - 1999). In some remote parts of the developing countries photovoltaic electric technology is provided for domestic consumption (Akrich in Bijker and Law - 1992). In the health care sector among the complementary medicine, the Ayurveda or indigenous medicine is a traditional healing system (Riedijk - 1987). A substantial indigenous knowledge base serves as a lifeline for all aspects of rural life, and in other communities. Save for odd item like Ayurveda, by and large the current indigenous knowledge is not successfully amalgamated with transferred technology for modernization.

            The failure of operation and maintenance of implemented projects in the developing countries is commonly ascribed to inappropriate technology and technology transfer. Technological change and socio-cultural change go hand in hand. Without a gradual cultural change there can be no improvement in the quality of life. A radical change of agriculture or sanitation system is not realistic. In general the developing societies have a technological base for the operation and maintenance of the technological assets (USAID - 1979).

            In the developing countries the innovation is mainly a process of adaptation, emulation and imitation on imported technologies, and they manufacture some items locally both as spare parts and equipment (Green et al, Mrinalini in STD Forum - 1993). The markets and industries have begun to respond to new trends of globalization and economic liberalization and the local markets shape and respond to local demands.

            Theoretical knowledge programs like farm irrigation scheduling are targeted to practicing technological communities. Such relevant knowledge transfer as education, and a certain level of associated functions, for example the flow calibration of irrigation canals are worthy. Sometimes it is inappropriate to be applied in the field in the format the technology is transferred. The main problem is the purely technological presumption of the information and program, with no appreciation of the prevailing cultures, and the environmental conditions which are an integral part of the program. In this case the concept of the programme together with its intended purpose has to be appropriated by a common sense approach to suit the operating environment with due consideration of the socio-technical networks. Technology shapes and is shaped by the society.

             In the developing countries the civil engineer is faced with the problem of selecting either low cost appropriate technology or conventional technology and to be a sagacious synthesizer of global technology; where as in the developed world except in environmental soft engineering like riverbank and sea defense work, the technologist usually is not confronted by this quandary.



            In the following section, some civil engineering technologies culturally specific and germane with the communities, and their social implications are reviewed. Sanitation, water supply and irrigation in the developing countries, urban transport and waste disposal have been discoursed.

Public Health Engineering in the Developing Countries

            The public health associated with water supply and sanitation is a central importance of majority of the population living in rural areas and slum housing in the towns and cities. The most communicable diseases such as diarrhoea are caused by inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practices. Worm infections such as hookworm and schistosomiasis cause chronic debilitating conditions and impair the quality of life. The communities exposed to the endemic diseases gain adaptive immunity (Janeway and Travers -1996). The factors like, malnutrition, overcrowded living conditions, smoke inhalation exacerbate the infection, and the children and old are more vulnerable (Listorti - 1990). Safe disposal of excreta, increased supply of water, cleaner environment and better hygiene practices are vital to improve the health in communities suffering from endemic excreta related diseases.

            Where finance is available to implement the projects, pipe water supply is available, and the users can pay self-sustaining rates, the sewerage systems are most convenient for urban populations. But this is hardly the case with poor shantytowns. The least cost solutions that would provide a safe fulfillment of the needs are the only option. The least cost options of sanitation comprise of pit latrines, water-sealed latrines with soakaway cesspit or vault type cesspits, and compost latrines (Feachem et al - 1980). These least cost solutions have disadvantages of aesthetics, odour, cleanliness, privacy, need for periodic attention for emptying cesspits or handling compost; groundwater and the social problems of maintaining public systems. In the rural areas where there is more space, the types of pit latrine or pour-flush water-sealed soakaway latrines can be provided with least social and environmental problems. Pit latrines are suitable for low and medium density populations up to 300 persons per hectare; and should be kept about 30m from a well (Kalbermatten et al - 1980a).

            Sanitation is distinctly a cultural issue. Partly because many communities treat with disgust and avoid contact with excreta. The other factor is the practice of anal cleansing, weather washing or wiping and the materials used that affect the choice of the type of latrine suitable.

            In China and some Southeast Asian countries the reuse of excreta is a cultural practice; the night soil has a commercial value and the means of disposal are greater (Feachem et al -  1980). Compost is used as a fertilizer. The recommended standard of treated effluent for irrigation is less than 100 coliforms per 100 milli liters (Feachem et al - 1980, Kalbermatten et al - 1980b). The WHO guidelines suggest a much less stringent standard of less than 1000 coliforms/100ml (WHO - 1989). Aquaculture, that is raising of fish and aquatic plants in maturation ponds is widely practiced in countries like China. Some communities who avoid excreta might access water sources equally polluted as maturation ponds. Coastal areas in some developed countries where shellfish and other fish are caught may be polluted similar to maturation ponds. In the European Union the Community directives require secondary treatment of sewage before discharged to the sea, or at least primary treatment where this would not adversely affect the environment (Wright - 1992).

            Waste stabilization ponds are sewage treatment systems dependent on natural symbiosis of biodegradation of waste and pathogens assisted by sunlight. The retention periods required are quite high compared to the conventional mechanical plants. For efficient removal of pathogens 20-30 days retention may be necessary. The best operation temperatures are above 200C, but will operate at less than 150C with less efficiency. Stabilization ponds are renowned for higher pathogen removal efficiency than even conventional mechanical treatment plants, and requires larger area of land (Arthur - 1983, Feachem et al - 1980, Kalbermatten et al - 1980b, WHO - 1980, Cairncross and Feachem - 1983, Gunnerson - 1988).. Pond systems can be combined in one hand with the mechanical aerators, and on the other with the constructed wetlands; and can be adopted in temperate climates EPA – 1993).

            The sanitation improvement in shanty dwelling usually comes within the programs of self-help upgrading of these dwellings, compounds, roads and the drainage, with the support of the local municipal authorities. The compounds should be kept dry as possible and free from waste. The drains should be lined and covered where possible (Cotton and Franceys - 1983).

            The feasibility studies of sanitation programs thus involve consultation with communities to collect data and information on several aspects of socio-cultural and economics nature such as, existing infrastructure, housing, demography, income levels, occupations, prevailing diseases and treatment sources, sanitation habits and practices, community’s degree of affordability to pay and scope of participation, environmental conditions, local skills and availability of materials etc (Kalbermatten - 1980a, Simpson-Hebert - 1983).  In some cultures gender is a sensitive factor in interviews and female interviewers are required to interview female members.

            The above account manifests both the cultural implications and the social constructionist nature of the technology and technological shaping of the society. Communities can adopt only technologies they and the providing authorities can afford, compatible with their cultural practices, and capable of maintaining. The society determines the choice of technology, and technology improves the social and depends on user practices to maintain and function as intended.

            In wet climates the rural towns and villages can develop simple water supplies from spring sources, rivers, lakes or dams. Collection from roof catchments is also a source. In many regions deep tube wells with hand-pumps serve the rural communities. Spring supplies can be protected with simple technological means (Barker in STD Forum - 1993, Cairncross and Feachem - 1983). To reduce the helminth diseases the link between man-water-man has to be broken. One way to achieve this is to use latrines, and the other is to provide and use protected water supplies. Water related vector based diseases such as malaria and filariasis are endemic in tropical climates (IIMI - 1986). The filariasis mosquito breeds in dirty water in places like urban open drains and other organically polluted pools. Irrigation schemes contribute to the spread of malaria and schistosomiasis where these diseases are endemic.

            The deep wells provide bacteriologically much safer water supply, but often they contain excessive chemical and mineral contamination like calcium, magnesium, iron, chlorides, fluorides and carbonates deriving from the water bearing rock strata, causing poor taste and ill effects like dental fluorosis in children’s’ teeth. Iron is usually reduced by aeration through a gravel filter installed with the hand-pump. Excess fluoride causes discoloration of teeth or dental fluorosis among children. However, most often the bacteriological quality of deep well water is far better than most other sources, which is the most relevant factor in the improvement of safe water supply in low-income communities. These basic provisions that improve the way of life are free utilities. These improvements save the time spent by women walking to collect poor quality water from a distance unprotected source, which they can use productively, and improve the general health, hygiene and the quality of life. ‘The water quantity is generally more important than the water quality; and investments in rural water treatment may not be sensible – two ideas that are probably anathema to public health engineers, but not to tropical public health engineers’ (Mara - 1990). In the shanty areas of the towns a standpipe water supply is commonly available that meets the basic needs of the slum dwellings.

            The improvements in health attributed to provision and improvements in sanitation and water supply systems are difficult to evaluate, as there are other simultaneously contributing factors like housing, balanced diet, and hygiene practices. Economic value of reduction of disease in community can be evaluated considering factors like, savings in days of absence from work due to illness, savings in medicine and hospital care. The measurement of benefits is not the primary objective of improved sanitation, achieving the benefits is (Kalbermatten - 1980a). The improvements in sanitary and social conditions like hygiene, and income were main factors contributed to improvement in the public health in the Victorian Britain (Hart -1985).


Urban Flood alleviation

            Restraining and preclusion of development on flood-plain is the front-line solution of the environmental planning authorities, which is not a favourable strategy from the social, commercial and political points of view. Levees are the popular solution to alleviate flood damage. Temporary storage in sewer systems, throttles and overflows are techniques applied in urban storm drainage systems. Vertical city concept incorporating the attenuation ponds and appropriate landscaping is a viable technological proposition to overcome the flood plain development problems that will be attractive in some locations.

Labour Intensive Technology

            High unemployment, limited funds to allocate to all the needs, and the scarce foreign exchange for the high cost capital and energy intensive construction equipment and plants have prompted labour intensive appropriate technologies for some construction and maintenance activities in the developing countries. Different countries and different low-income communities represent different cultural willingness for labour intensive technology. Motivation and awareness of the needs could change this cultural attitude. Labour intensive road construction is less realistic, but maintenance and some construction activities need manual labour (STD Forum - 1993, Miles - 1996).

            Particularly in the low-income developing countries, well organized, resourceful, private sector contractors are hard to come by to undertake the new market opportunities.  Besides the contractual culture is beset by local conventions, the terms like, quality assurance and productivity are redundant vogue. The contractor’s working practices are archaic pre Taylorism. Particularly where the rural communities are empowered of market opportunities, without a campaign to inculcate and internalize the meaning, objectives, means and methods, the concepts of privatization or market economy do not globalize.

            Since the local construction economy is dependent on the local community contractors, the training of contractors is imperative (Miles - 1996). The training must be practical, succinct and focus on the specific purpose like irrigation or road maintenance contracting, to meet the basic objectives. The factors, safety and health, welfare should be recognized and implemented.

                  A common situation in developing countries is the lack of financial, physical and human resources to maintain the public community infrastructure services. Where the public participation and consultation is mainly on decision making in choice and planning or travesty, and not in paid labour, self-help or in financial terms, the provision of services is restrained or hindered. This has led some technologist to think of community participation as a mythology (Carter et al - 1993). This paper advocates organizational, technical and financial support under controlled conditions for economic sustainability, with the full commitment of the user community, instigated by an awareness and motivation campaign.

Regional Institutions 

            Developing countries have inherited an administrative system established by the colonial rulers. This legacy and the following technology transfer have enabled to modernize the organization and administration of technological infrastructure systems serving the local communities in most parts of the world to different degrees. The concept of modernization could mean improvements in infrastructure or social conditions and culture or the institutions or all of these together. Modernization is cultural change shaped by the change in technological and organizational structure of the society (Mukuka in STD Forum - 1993).

            Decentralization is a step in modernization. In this sense in many developing countries the infrastructure management has been decentralized since the early part of the twentieth century. The political authority also has been decentralized, empowering the local communities in the decision making process of development planning. Developing countries have carried out decentralization mainly as part of a broader political agenda (World Bank - 1998). Some developing countries may still lag behind in democratic modernization, where as, in some others the epistemological democratic institutions are advanced while the culture is beset with terrorism, war and archaic forces of production. While the institutional democratic structure is advanced, the substantive - empirical nature is, in one hand characterized by the limitations in omnificent wherewithal, will, initiative, and inspiration for appropriate technology and modernization. On the other hand there is no constant demand for such engineering resources.  The traditional liaison with a central office is indispensable for the implementation of major works. Any form of democracy does not function effectively in a society, divided by internal hostilities, limited in technological and social skills, and there are extreme differences in living standards (Mayo – 1949). For Foucault the ‘discourse is not purely a linguistic concept. It is about language and practice. It attempts to overcome the traditional distinction between what one says (language) and what one does (practice)’. The meaning and meaningful practice is constructed within discourse (Hall - 1997).

Irrigation Systems

            The decentralized irrigation human settlement ‘system’ management umbrella organizations are vertically integrated, functionally departmentalized, multidisciplinary, hierarchically organized, staffed with professional, administrative, technically skilled managers and personnel with relevant education, training and experience in their specific duties and responsibilities specific to the organization’s culture. Though the model of umbrella organization is the classic modern management institution, the capacity of rural infrastructure management bureaucracy is shaped and determined by the dominant socio-technical networks prevailing within the local human and physical actors. The status quo is that the farmer communities are not part of the management organization - in other words, laissez-faire. The extension hardly exists at the community level in the field. To realize the goals of the project, the organization must transfer the technology to farmers who should appropriate the technology for modernization and sustainability. Paperwork and bureaucracy is not matched by quality outputs and industrious cultural change that represent sustainable modernization - that has been referred to as pauperization and preservation of the peasantry (Peiris - 1989). McGregor relates this phenomenon to 'ethnocentrism' (McGregor - 1960). Sweeping changes in management and efficiency are not realistic in the developing communities (Taylor - 1911).

            By and large the irrigation communities in Asia do not alienate irrigation systems because of the technology or mismatch with the cultural background and dynamics. Save for the limitation of land for third generation settlers, the cultural factors like the extended family are harmonious with irrigation project concepts. The alienation is mostly to do with ownership, operation schedule controls and the surrounding bureaucracy. ‘A structure that supported an economic system whose starting point was people – making everyone productive would look very different’ (McRobie - 1981).

Neglecting the quality assurance of field irrigation infrastructure is a fatal error. Though it is appropriate technology in terms of labour-based method, there is an essential degree of practical quality needed in earthwork, and compliance with the dimensional features that have to be met for the sustainability. Whatever the concept of quality assurance adopted, it cannot be achieved without the commitment of the senior management. The reasons for the failure of maintenance are attributed to three factors, technology, capacity and motivation (USAID - 1979). Though the underlying science is ominous, the irrigation canal field infrastructure technology is appropriate, simple to construct and maintain with local know-how, materials, and manpower. What is lacking are factors like motivation, awareness of goals and objectives, inspiration, consensus, contractor's organization and focus on critical necessities for sustainability; all within practical limitations of the organization and the farmer communities.

            Partly due to the irrigation field infrastructure is rapidly and recurrently deteriorating, the farm irrigation water management is inefficient. Highly theoretical irrigation schedules are futile even when the systems are new and functioning well (World Bank - 1998). What is needed is to monitor that there is no wastage as from surface drainage and, the farmers are motivated to comply with the mutually agreed cultivation programs and irrigation schedules. This is optimization and appropriate technology of farm irrigation water management. Beyond that the motivation needed is for the diversification of field crops as suitable for well-drained soil and less permeable soil. Agronomically, the crop planning and diversification according to soil type ought to be a priority, but rice cultivation is a cultural practice. Agronomic crop planning also minimizes the problems of salinization and waterlogging. Large-scale inter-regional or inter-basin water distribution network management is facilitated with stochastic computer programs. These simulations produce outcomes with acceptable level of deviation from the real events, and adjustments are made during operations. 

            Another syndrome that is inimical for rural infrastructure systems management is the tendency for the fantasy of equipment based technology and conventional high-tech solutions, oblivious of the real needs, local skills and resources, priorities, economics, and the environment in the planned mature projects. Technological systems are bounded by the limits of control (Hughes in Bijker et al - 1987). The engineer’s responsibility is working out the best way of doing things, and in order to do this he needs to have a global perception of the effects of his proposals (Armstrong et al - 1989). We are all better at seeing some things than others. We all have our blind spots (Bijker and Law - 1992). We are influenced by the strengths and weaknesses of the organizational culture. Important thing is to get our decisions right at the end. Commonsense and spontaneity are useful traits in technology and culture. In the ad hoc improvements of appropriate civil engineering infrastructure, more astute consideration should be given in decision-making; providing the logical and purposive control  (Mayo - 1949).


            The unforeseen ecological impacts of genetic research programs on agricultural crops and the unanticipated side effects of foods produced from genetically modified crops are a topical debate. One of the major benefits of biotechnology on crops is increased yield. Apart from high yield, biotechnology can improve the quality characteristics such as nutrient composition, solid content and flavour. The other main improvements in food crops are disease and pest resistance, hence cost savings, environmental stress resistance such as drought or salinity tolerance, weed management and herbicide tolerance, and nitrogen fixing (Galhardi in STD Forum - 1993, Huttner et al in Parker and Zilberman - 1995). Biotechnology of plants whether traditional crossings or genetic manipulations leads to a decline in intra-species genetic diversity as it supplants traditional landrace varieties, with a narrow genetic base. Decline in genetic diversity results in a loss of resistance to pests and disease among new hybrid varieties. Plant breeders have to keep going back to old natural genetic varieties to produce new hybrids with resistance (Frisvold et al in Parker and Zilberman - 1995). Reduction in plant species in an ecosystem also affects the diversity of animal species. Biotechnology is heterogeneous engineering and goes through a process of stabilization.

Social Impacts of Large Dams

            Large dams are rarely built any more in the developed countries, especially in Europe because they have exhausted the feasible sites that are environmentally benign. In the developing countries large scale water resource developments continue amidst controversy and protest.

            The main objection to dam projects in the developing countries is the displacement of peasant farmers. When the economic benefits of the project exceed the costs including the costs of relocation of displaced communities and infrastructure, the promoting authorities push ahead with the implementation. The protestors and their supporters have their points of objection, which may not be commensurably appeased by the total project benefits. Anxiety, psychological trauma and stress of displacement, loss of cultural and sentimental values, and the efforts of resettlement are not compensated.

            An environmental impact assessment is necessary for a dam project and this will reflect the fate of the heritage and ecological sites. The assessment facilitates public consultation; and the report is open to public evaluation and debate, and will engender interest group and local opposition. The report includes mitigation measures for the adverse impacts on both the human and natural environments. Measures to relocate ecological and heritage sites may be necessary. Priceless archaeological treasures in dam sites challenge the developing authorities and engineers to formulate appeasing solutions. In rural settlements to protect the endangered reservations on riverbanks and reservoir shorelines, tree planting should be a priority.

For some critics, irrigation projects are more or less synonymous with salinization and waterlogging. Under the normal conditions, waterlogging in irrigation projects is inadmissible as an engineering problem and defies the meaning of irrigation. It is caused by wasteful use of irrigation. Drainage is necessary for sustainability of irrigation projects. Commonly the surface drainage is an outdated practice that fails to recognize the optimization for sustainability, and results in problems like waterlogging. Especially if flood irrigation is used on saline soil or with saline water, the situation is more complicated considering the user practices, unlike laboratory research. Agronomic crop planning alleviates the otherwise likely aggravated adverse impacts of irrigation.

            In the developed countries like Britain the water resource development is mainly for water supply for domestic and industrial use. New abstractions or reservoir developments are controlled to mitigate the water and environmental impacts, and the increased demands are pursued by controlling wastage in consumption and leaks in the supply and distribution systems by pricing and regulatory measures.

Rural Electrification

             Rural electrification is a benefit resulting from the dam projects. The domestic supply of electricity is subsidized in the developing countries. The domestic subsidy can be two tiers with lower rate for minimum need consumption of a small dwelling and a higher rate for above the specified low consumption. In India the electricity for pump irrigation is heavily subsidized.

             Rural electrification is a mode of technological determinism that changes the culture at home. Primarily it modernizes the lighting, ironing and will enable watching television and in some homes, using a refrigerator, electric kettle, cooker and a pump for water supply. These transformations change the women’s and generally the family life style. Children’s studying becomes more interesting than in other form of lighting. Electrification makes women do more work at less effort. Television is a prime medium of entertainment and also a medium of education for campaigns in sectors like health and agriculture, and a channel for politicians and government programs.

Rural electrification helps the diffusion of small industries like garment factories, mills, workshops, garages, enabling villagers to find employment without having to commute to towns and cities. Rural electrification improves clean living and reduces the desire for people to migrate to towns seeking better amenities. Rural electrification helps decentralized regionalism (Hughes in Smith and Marx - 1995). In the Ivory Coast the rural electrification has initiated the land reform, establishing the ownership of a fixed plot of the previous common land occupied by village community, setting a major cultural change shaped by technological determinism (Akrich in Bijker and Law - 1992).


Urban Transport

            The car travel has reached a saturation point accompanied with unhealthy concentrations of environmental pollution in many cities in the world. The new built motorways soon become congested at some stretches. Some rapidly modernizing high-income developing countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have been quick to respond to car congestion problem using the weapons of discouraging car use. Most developed countries like Britain and America are slow to adopt draconian means of car control because car is a popular culture of the society and political will is slow to enforce ultimate controls on the car culture. The primary solution to car congestion is modern integrated mass transit systems.

            Until the mid nineteenth century in the UK the towns were located where they were served by rivers and canals. Since then the development of railway, and the subsequent tram and bus encouraged the growth of the radial corridors in the cities and towns (Wootton - 1999). The cities and towns have evolved originally with a city center (Lowson - 1999). Radial road corridors from the suburban peripheries converge to city center. Most public transport of all modes follow the radial pattern to the city center. When the busses were introduced they were seen to be more flexible than trams – a factor that led to the demise of the tram (Ridley - 1992). The very flexibility of the bus that supplanted the tram, led the car culture to relegate the bus.

            The countries that experience traffic congestion and considering ameliorating plans, do not want to discourage the car ownership. They want to curb the car use and control peak-time traffic congestion and hazards.

            While pursuing improvements like removing the bottle necks, prioritized integrated public transport systems and car restriction measures are considered to ameliorate the congestion in city centers, and environmental pollution and hazards in residential neighborhoods and cities. Walking and cycling are personal options. Car restriction measures include both fiscal measures like taxes, road pricing and other charges, and physical means like traffic calming (Langmyhr - 1999, Pucher - 1998, Fong - 1985, Lewis). Road humps are not a popular but effective means of traffic calming in residential roads. More civilized self-regulating speed limits, is ineffective in the present day car culture. The electronic road pricing can be fine tuned to reflect the level of congestion and cost in time and space; the disadvantages include the heavy cost of installation and operation, monitoring and controlling (Fong - 1985, Lewis – 1993) . Satellite monitored congestion charging is the futuristic official prognosis.

In UK, the road pricing or congestion charge is considered for demand management during congestion. In general, road pricing is an instrument for charging to allocate road space, to curb car use to alleviate congestion and pollution, and a means of revenue for road and transport projects (Langmyhr - 1999).

Travel demand by car is said to be inelastic to price (Wootton - 1999). There are certain journey types like family travel by car outside the city centres, and other essential business users whose demand may be inelastic. Considering that more than 80 per cent of just over a million commuters to London travel by train services, and the other emerging trends, it is reasonable to suppose that with necessary incentives like improved integrated public transport, and restrains, most commuters in congested cities will choose public transport.  

The modern concept of flexibility is created through innovative, integrated transfer within and between bus, light rail and the train, using the same ticket, involving some element of walking or cycling and minimum waiting time. Facilitation of public transport attractions and incentives embrace both the technology and planning schedules, and the financial and business management arrangements like franchises, competitive contracts and partnerships (Bentley - 1998). The operators must be efficient and make a profit, attract passengers, reinvest and maintain safety and modernity. The modern public transport systems are highly subsidized by government and other private sector cross subsidies (Lowson - 1999, Pucher - 1998, Bentley - 1998, Axhausen - 1999).

             The compactness of a town or city producing a higher density of population is also factor contributing to the commercial efficiency of a public transport. Where as in Germany the land use policies and control are aimed to promote high density urban areas with restraint on urban sprawl, in the UK suburban sprawl continues to meet the demand of the housing market with little impact of controls like green belt areas (Pucher - 1998, Wootton - 1999) . A conflict of cultural values and the technological shaping of society.

While the car restraint is envisaged to solve urban traffic problems, bypasses for through traffic are also a part of the solution. Environmentalists always oppose bypasses. Nevertheless, the process involves an environmental impact assessment including the changes in associated environmental pollution. Traffic management systems like bypasses affect the local shopkeepers and they also tend to oppose these schemes. Road pricing also could unfairly affect the local residents that could have an impact on the property prices and urban land use pattern (Fong - 1985) .  

Urban traffic congestion and the associated adverse environmental impacts that beckon the envisaged car restraint reflect an antithesis of technical determinism of car culture as it reverts to past modes of transport. It is clearly a case of social constructionist actors considering the adverse impacts of car culture determinism, responding with solutions composed of physical technological actors, predominantly rail technology, traffic calming, and innovative economic and managerial actors. 

Waste Disposal

            Municipal waste disposal is an environmentally sensitive issue that concerns the communities and the politicians representing them. The most common method of municipal waste disposal is landfill. The other method is incineration.

            In spite of environmental impact assessment report and specification of emission controls, the public doubts operational standards, and object to the impacts like additional heavy traffic movement in residential areas, noise and air pollution. This syndrome is known as NIMBY – not in my backyard (Feis - 1994). Many European countries practice domestic waste separation, recycling and incineration with energy recovery. In Britain the waste disposal remains old-fashioned collection and mainly disposal at landfill sites. By regulation, the modern landfill sites are designed for long-term safe discharge of landfill gas containing mainly methane. The groundwater is protected from leachate, which is retained, collected, treated on site and disposed to a public sewer. The incinerators can be built to separate metals, and to generate heat for local use. Sites suitable for landfill are getting scarce and hence further away from towns, increasing the haul distance. Besides the regulation governing movement and disposal of waste, a landfill tax is imposed to encourage minimize waste, recycle, compost, and to reflect the environmental and economic costs of landfill as an alternative to incineration.


            Neither technology nor social constructionism is purely deterministic. Certain technologies, not entirely independently, have a momentous trajectory - for example, Information Technology. In contrast the irrigation field infrastructure technology has failed to gain the required kind of appropriation by the consumers and maintenance communities. The low-cost appropriate technologies depend more on consumers for operation, maintenance and satisfactory performance. The paper illuminated how the organizational culture of the regional institutions shape the technology.

            To shape the society, the community must be willing to concur some changes in behaviour and attitudes, and gain management and technical skills to operate and maintain technological systems. If these requirements are not fully met, technology fails to shape the culture, and both the technology and society will be in limbo. By change we do not mean radical changes incongruous with cultural values. The Corporate culture is a flexible, efficient, modern alternative to bureaucracy for the management of technological organizations that relies on employees internalizing the corporate values in performance. Corporate culture is not immune from the pragmatic and perceptual flaws of organizational management. Technology is dependent on economic and social factors like finance, economic viability, regulation and stabilization.

The treatise of demand management of urban traffic led to the inference of social shaping of technology – the reversal of car culture in urban areas to integrated public transport systems composed of mass transit and bus, and traffic calming, instead of a trajectory of car culture. Society opts out and puts the breaks on certain technologies because of adverse environmental impacts or economic predilections.

             Technological determinism is pronounced in the narrow technological domain as in confined departments of research, design and construction or production.  In civil engineering for instance, once all the economic and social appraisals are completed and finance is secured, a certain technological system option will be regarded as deterministic for construction; that is also subject to change. The implemented projects are subject to stabilization and post implemented performance and evaluation.

So, all in all a qualified technological determinism is evident. The relationship between culture and technology is a heterogeneous symbiosis of technology and social constructionist actors. Technology shapes and is shaped by the culture.


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