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The Unseeing State: How Ideals of Modernity Have Undermined Innovation in Africa’s Urban Water Systems
Philosophy and History, KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0611-7512
2016 (English)In: NTM. International Journal of History and Ethics of Natural Sciences, Technology and Medicine, ISSN 0036-6978, E-ISSN 1420-9144, Vol. 24, no 4, 481-510 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In contrast to the European historical experience, Africa’s urban infrastructural systems are characterised by stagnation long before demand had been saturated. Water infrastructures have been established as predominantly exclusive service provision systems, with millions of poor people lacking basic services in the cities. What is puzzling is that so little emphasis has been placed on innovation and adaptation of the colonial technological paradigm to better suit the local and current socio-economic context. Based on historical case studies of Kampala and Nairobi, this paper argues that the lack of innovation in African urban water infrastructure can be understood using the concept of technological closure (Pinch & Bijker 1987), and by looking at water technology from its embedded values and ideology. Large-scale water technology became part of African leaders’ strategies to build prosperous nations and cities after decolonisation and the ideological purpose of infrastructure may have been much more important than previously understood. Water technology had reached a state of closure in Europe and then came to represent modernisation and progress in the colonial context. It has continued to serve such a similar symbolic purpose after independence, with old norms essentially being preserved. Recent sector reforms have defined problems predominantly as of economic and institutional nature while state actors have become ‘unseeing’ vis-á-vis controversies within the technological systems themselves. To induce socio-technical innovation towards equality in urban infrastructure services, it will be necessary to understand the broader incentive structure that govern the ‘relevant social groups’, such as governments, donors, water suppliers and the consumers, as well as power-structures and accountability. 

Abstract [de]

Verglichen mit europäischen Strukturen der Daseinsvorsorge sind urbane Infrastruktursysteme in Afrika durch Stagnation geprägt und werden dem Leistungsbedarf nur unzureichend gerecht. Während der Anschuss an Systeme der Wasserver- und -entversorgung bestimmten Kreisen vorbehalten bleibt, fehlt es den ärmeren urbanen Räumen an Zugängen zu grundlegenden Versorgungsleistungen. Auf Grundlage zweier historischer Fallstudien (Kampala und Nairobi) wird in diesem Beitrag argumentiert, dass sich die unzureichenden Anpassungs- und Innovationsleistungen urbaner Wasserinfrastrukturen an die sozio-ökonomischen Bedürfnisse mit dem Konzept der technological closure erfassen lassen (Pinch & Bijker 1987). Für das Verständnis dieser Strukturen erfordert es zudem einer näheren Untersuchung der in ihnen eingeschriebenen Werte und Ideologien. Als großtechnische Systeme der Wasserver- und -entsorgung im Zuge der Dekolonisierung im afrikanischen Kontext als Sinnbilder des technischen Fortschritts Verbreitung fanden, hatten dieselben in Europa bereits den Status einer diskursiven Schließung („closure”) erreicht. Auch nach der Unabhängigkeit erfüllten sie weiterhin diese symbolische Funktion, während staatliche Akteure die Kontroversen um die Versorgungsprobleme weitgehend ignorierten (‚unseeing’). Es erfordert einer umfassenden Analyse der ‚relevant social groups’, wie Regierungen, Geldgeber, Wasserversorger und Nutzer wie auch der Macht- und Anreizstrukturen, um das Verständnis für diese (post)kolonialen Eigendynamiken zu schärfen.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer, 2016. Vol. 24, no 4, 481-510 p.
Keyword [en]
Technological change, Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), Innovation, Closure, Africa, Urban infrastructure, Water and sanitation infrastructure
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-204405DOI: 10.1007/s00048-017-0160-0OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-204405DiVA: diva2:1084333
Projects
The role of Local Innovation for a Transformative Shift towards sustainable Water and Sanitation in African Cities
Funder
Swedish Research Council Formas
Note

först utgiven online Mars 2017

QC 20170407

Available from: 2017-03-24 Created: 2017-03-24 Last updated: 2017-04-07Bibliographically approved

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