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Title: Water Meters and Monthly Bills Meet Rural Brazilian Communities: Sociological Perspectives on Technical Objects for Water Management
Authors: Brown, Colin Andrew
Pena, Joao Luiz
Affilliation: Fundação Oswaldo Cruz. Centro de Pesquisas Rene Rachou. Belo Horizonte, MG, Brasil
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. Belo Horizonte, MG, Brasil
Abstract: Lasting solutions for communities in need of improved water and sanitation services—notably rural ones—depend on a balanced consideration of what some have called natural, technical, and social factors. Worldwide deficits in access to appropriate water services in rural areas highlight the need to develop sustainable management models, which are increasingly being proposed with an emphasis on local user participation. The current research analyzes a case study of two rural communities in Northeast Brazil who recently began receiving water supply services through the SISAR, a state-affiliated organization underpinned by shared management with local actors. Using sociological frameworks based conceptually in Actor-Network Theory, the study’s main objectives aimed to characterize what changes—if any—the application of the SISAR’s model would produce upon local dynamics, be them wide-scale or intrahousehold. Field research was carried out over three months in 2014, in which the researcher interviewed a handful of professionals and several dozens of local residents during an extended in situ research phase. Our study finds that two technical factors (the water meter and monthly bill) were at the heart of key tensions and uncertainty for users in the new water management model. Lacking appropriate guidance, users acquainted themselves with these technical objects with what personal resources, interests, and intuitions they possessed. Users were without instruction on how the meter worked, how to understand the bill, and did not know that a price table even existed. Consequently, users revealed unknown qualities of these objects that countered the service provider’s intentions to rationalize water use, and adopted attitudes and behaviors marked by subjective impressions of precaution and frugality. The findings show that technical objects have no self-evident qualities to users and, thus, users must learn or be taught how to interact with them in such a way as to produce desired outcomes. Rushed attempts at establishing low-cost, so-called participative models may indeed have heavy consequences. The most significant of which is an unfavorable climate for the formation of societies where informed individuals collectively possess the tools required to grasp the situations they live within and manage sustainable water supply systems. Awareness of one’s environmental impact is predicated on knowledge of one’s consumption. Thus, this research contributes to development-related discussions by demonstrating that producing particular user attitudes and behaviors on a mass scale vis-a`-vis resource consumption requires regular efforts to understand and mediate the encounter between users and non-human actants.
Keywords: sociotechnical innovation
water management
environmental sociology
Actor-Network Theory
Latin America, Brazil
keywords: inovações sociotecnologica
desenvolvimento social
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved
Citation: BROWN, Colin Andrew; PENA, Joao Luiz. Water Meters and Monthly Bills Meet Rural Brazilian Communities: Sociological Perspectives on Technical Objects for Water Management. World Development, v. 84, pp. 149–161, 2016
DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.03.014
ISSN: 0305-750X
Copyright: restricted access
Appears in Collections:MG - IRR - Artigos de Periódicos

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