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Social Sciences Vs. Technical Science

There is a very strong dichotomy between the technical and social sciences in our education system. They are not seen as complementary and necessary fusion but as polar oppo- sites. Social sciences are seen as less rigorous or intellectual stream. It’s a residual field where only the left out join.

I feel that it is because in our society there is a lack of awareness that science (knowledge) and society are interlinked. There is an assumption that they can exist in parallel. Our knowledge system is imported from the West and it has very little dialogue with our cultural and social context.

Our engineering, architecture, urban design or medical discourses are copied and directly imposed on our society. There is very little investigation on whether the Western style urbanization or road planning which were developed in a flatter or non-agricultural terrain even suitable in our mountain geography. Or, for instance there is a total ne- glect for the sciences, like our traditional building sciences that had evolved for over centuries in our landscape.

Unfortunately, our traditions are considered primitive or impoverished in our academic, political or cultural narra- tive. They are even considered an embarrassment, as one can see after the earthquake our unique village landscape is being infected with flat roofed concrete structures that has no regional character.

After I finished my undergraduate studies in design in New York City, I had little interest to bring out the New York style architecture back home. I knew, we had to create a new architectural language that suited our 21st century ambition and reflected our history. In our country, which has over a hundred ethnic groups with their own architec- tural uniqueness, I believed, we had rich departure point.

Before I made any intervention, I needed to study the existing cultural and social narratives that define how our natural resources were governed. For this reason, I joined Kathmandu University, Human and Natural Resource Management. I must say it was a very eye-opening program because the teachers had good mix of academic and professional back- ground. Through them I could get a good insight into how the political economy of our resource regime worked.

In conjunction to the course I was investigating bamboo as a modern construction in Nepal. I had identified bamboo because it was very abundant in Nepal. It is estimated that 3.2 million people are engaged in this sector in one-way or the other. Nepal has 54 varieties of bamboo ranging from the tropical bamboo of Thailand to the tundra bamboo of Tibet. Moreover, bamboo is not classified as a timber since it resides in Gramineae family- same as grass. Therefore the transport of it is much easier compared to wood. Fur- thermore, bamboo grows up to 1 meter in a day and can rehabilitate degraded areas very quickly.

In terms of strength it compares to mild steel. Therefore I found it’s an amazing plant that has very good technical properties and was culturally ingrained in our society.

By studying the social and political issues, I could develop my philosophical framework on how to use this mate- rial. In the last four years I have developed a very robust supply chain of bamboo, which engages more than 200 farmers to artisans and architects. We are planting bamboo in riverbeds, which rehabilitates the soil, consolidates the riverbanks and provides additional incomes to farmers. I believe, it is one of those market driven enterprise which is win-win for people and the environment. Moreover, the system of construction that we have developed is now being transferred to more than 12 countries. Had I not looked at this material from social science perspective and only looked at enterprise from business perspective, I don’t think I would have been able to impact people’s lives.

Nripal Adhikary

Kathmandu University (KU) graduate Nripal Adhikary, is the founder of ABARI which was founded in 2006 in order to retrace and reuse the conventional resources, so that they can be used in the current context. His mechanism has been practiced in different countries Asia, Africa and Europe.

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