Thursday, September 23, 2010

Striking a Balance: Finding a Compromise between the Social and the Scientific

Balance and compromise are common vocabulary; one hears them used regarding all aspect of life. However, to strike a balance or compromise is often a more odious task than presumed. Through the exploration of four texts “The No-Nonsense Guide to International Development” by Margaret Black, “Beyond the comfort Zone” by Jo Rowlands, contrasting with “What is Engineering”, and “Mindsets in Engineering” by Riley, it causes one to question how a balance and compromise can be struck between the Social mindset and the Science mindset regarding Global Development. First, I will discuss the rolls of social and science in development, second I will state why these two mindsets need be more intertwined and conclude by briefly discussing the challenges ahead for striking a balance between the Engineer and the Social Scientist.

The role of social science is often hard to define as it encompasses many different strategies of problem solving; with various combinations of research methods and tactics, that are further convoluted by each social scientists personal milieu, there exists a wide rage of opinions and solutions surrounding all development issues (Rowlands). While the ability to perceive many different aspects of a situation, and offer varying solutions and opinions may make it impossible to come to a conclusion, it helps insure problems are not given solutions that are ineffective.

Contrary to the social scientists roundabout problem solving, engineers are given a problem and set directly to find a solution. They use their ingenuity, with their mathematical and scientific skills to come to an appropriate solution that suits the needs and fiscal constraints of their contractor (Text: What is Engineering). Their roll in technological development is of utmost importance as, without this scientific advance, the world could not progress.

It is clear that social aspects and scientific aspects go hand in hand, but are often viewed as starkly different. Without using tools from both mindsets, accomplishing development tasks is next to impossible. For example, in “The No-Nonsense Guide to International Development”, Margaret Black uses the construction of a water dam in Northern India to demonstrate how this engineered development project did not result in a positive outcome. Black believes that “the essence of 'development', as most people understand the term, is that it should combat poverty. Yet many of these projects adversely affect poor people and inflict poverty on others who were not poor before”(Black). In the case of the dam,the engineer could view the project as a success: it fulfilled the goal it set to accomplish. To the social scientist however,(like Margaret Black) it was a catastrophe, further hindering the lives of the impoverished, the very people for whom development is supposed to help.

From this is it clear that while engineers are there to give a solution, their solution is not always the most appropriate without the understanding of the social implications that come from the social scientists concept of the needs, and wants of the people in that particular social setting. This is a direct result of problem 'solving' without exploring socio-cultural aspects and thinking of possible adverse implications these solutions could have on a society.

The essence of the challenge ahead revolves around how does one combine these mindsets in order to be more effective in development projects? Unfortunately, engineers are assigned to a job and paid to fulfill that task. Is it even possible to orient a conscious social prospective into this predominately privately funded field? (Riley). Whether it is integrating social justice into the scientific schooling, or imposing government regulations and guidelines, I do not know.

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