Bijker, “Dikes and Dams, Thick with Politics”

Dikes and Dams, Thick with PoliticsAuthor(s): Wiebe E. BijkerSource: Isis, Vol. 98, No. 1 (March 2007), pp. 109-123

ABSTRACT: Things are thick with politics. This essay illustrates the point by focusing on a variety of technologies that help to manage water: anicuts and tanks in India, dikes and a storm surge barrier in the Netherlands, and levees in New Orleans. Technologies are not only shaped by political forces; they also exert political force themselves: on social stratification in Indian villages or on government stability in the Netherlands. We should recognize, then, that the functioning of technologies and the functioning of societies are intricately linked. The essay traces this interlinking by using the concept of “technological culture.” It argues that the different styles of coastal engineering in the United States and in the Netherlands can be explained by differences in their technological cultures, particularly the different styles of risk handling. This conclusion is then applied to the Indian case and to issues of development, democracy, and innovation.

Key concepts: technological culture; technological frame
Main points:
Different technological cultures are reflective of, for example, different ways of handling risks (as in the case of the Netherlands vs. the USA in dealing with dikes/levees).
Infrastructure and culture: “People with a high degree of inclusion in a technological frame will find it difficult to imagine other ways of dealing with the world, of using these things radically differently or even not using them at all.”
“a focus on the ‘things’ of water management can help us to understand the cultural and democratic makeup of societies and at the same time is important for addressing questions about the further sociotechnical development of those societies.”

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