Social Construction of Colombo Lotus Tower: Intertwined Narratives of Religion, Economic Development, and Telecommunication

Social Construction of Colombo Lotus Tower: Intertwined Narratives of Religion, Economic Development, and Telecommunication

Chamil Rathnayake (University of Hawaii, Manoa, HI, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJISSC.2015070101
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Abstract

This paper discusses, using the framework of Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) and some recent related work, the design, location, and the funding background of the Colombo Lotus Tower. Lotus Tower is a multifunctional communication tower currently being built in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Popular press articles, a discussion forum at Skyscrapercity.com, website of the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, and content on several related websites were used to understand the public discourse related to the Lotus Tower. According to the public discourse, there are at least three intertwined narratives related to the design and location of the Lotus Tower: 1) Buddhist symbolism, 2) symbolizing post-war Sri Lanka's development, and 3) help develop Colombo as a tourist destination. These three narratives show how power asymmetries between main ethnic groups, aspirations of pre-existing social groups, and government's ability to draw resources shape the construction of the Lotus Tower. Accordingly, the case of Lotus Tower indicates how ethnic, religious, and political factors can make artifact design unique in different contexts.
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Introduction

Technological artifacts do not function in isolation. They shape and are shaped by socio-cultural, political, economic, and legal factors. The role these factors play in the construction and application of technological artifacts needs to be studied in different contexts. South Asian nations are rapidly developing their technological infrastructure, and those developments reflect political, economic, and cultural tensions in the region. This is the case at least in Sri Lanka where changes in technological infrastructure relate to a complex political economy. From an international perspective, Sri Lanka is located in a strategically important spot in the Indian Ocean. Chinese support for large scale development projects, compared to neighbor India, reflects this significance. From an insider’s point of view, power asymmetries and tensions between main ethnic groups may affect development initiatives. Both these international and local factors shape technological development in the island nation. The objective of this paper is to discuss, using the framework of Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) and some of its critiques, the design, location, and the funding background of the Colombo Lotus Tower. Colombo Lotus Tower is a 350-meter tall multifunctional telecommunication tower currently being built in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The tower will resemble a lotus, and it will be built in the heart of Colombo city in an area identified as a potential tourist attraction. The political economy related to the Lotus Tower provides insights to understand the complex nature of technological infrastructure development in Sri Lanka.

Social Construction of Technology, suggested by Pinch and Bijker (1987) is one of the most useful theories to understand the role social context plays in the construction of technological artifacts. Pinch and Bijker reject the traditional linear innovation process, and suggest understanding the technological development of an artifact as a non-linear process. This multidirectional view to understand technology pays attention to how the development of an artifact is affected by various social groups. Moreover, Pinch and Bijker claim that there is flexibility in the way an artifact is interpreted and designed. This theory was one of the most prominent theories in the constructivist approaches to science and technology. While SCOT is a widely applied theory in the field, it has been subject to critique in academic literature (e.g Klein & Kleinman, 2002). This paper uses SCOT and some of its critiques as a basis to explain the social construction of the Colombo Lotus Tower. This paper, however, is not an attempt to argue that SCOT can be applied in Sri Lankan context. Arguably, a widely applied theory like SCOT should be able to describe social construction on artifacts in Sri Lanka. Rather than supporting this seemingly obvious verity, this paper attempts to show the complex and unique nature of ICT infrastructure development in Sri Lanka. Such an examination helps reconstruct technologies by redefining questions, identifying excluded social actors, and finding socially acceptable ways to develop technologies within the Sri Lankan context. Such an analysis has insights for areas such as ICT infrastructure development, design and implementation of large scale information systems, and national-level investments in technology.

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