Accepted Paper:

When engineering practices encountered the unacceptable, unpredictable, unthinkable: how STS can shed light on engineering education reform in Taiwan  


Wen-Ling Hong (National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology)
Jr-Ping Wang (National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology )

Paper short abstract:

The 2014 Propylene explosion revealed conventional practices of several engineering disciplines entangled thus created grave uncertainties for catastrophe. STS studies point out robust technical communication and information sharing is crucial, and engineering education reform can tackle this issue.

Paper long abstract:

Near midnight of a hot summer day in 2014, sections of densely populated central Kaohsiung exploded. 32 were killed and 321 were wounded. Investigation found propylene had leaked to rainwater culvert boxes while being pumped to a petrochemical plant via an underground pipeline. Inspired by STS, we, originally trained in engineering, exam how different engineering practices collided in Taiwan's economic growth driven societal, social context. First, the culvert box construction team wrongfully exposed a section of the buried pipeline and left it unreported. The pipeline has been eroded for more than 20 years and was not discovered by the conventional non-directive pipeline survey performed later. The complex city environment surrounding the pipeline also posted great uncertainty in the interpretation of the data. Nevertheless, the operators on duty for the propylene transportation was not alert of the possibility of a leaky pipeline while they saw abnormal readings on the gages. In addition, there were also void and ambiguity in the law governing the ownership, the maintenance responsibilities of the pipelines and the documentation of construction paperwork. Citizens also demanded the right to know the locations and chemicals concerning the petrochemical pipelines in their daily living space after the disaster. These entanglements and missing links of engineering practices suggested robust technical communication and information sharing must be put into place. There is a rising interest in engineering education reform in Taiwan. STS study of such disaster stresses the importance of technological governance and provides new approaches to the old problems.

Panel C12
Colliding theories, cultures, and futures. STS view(s) beyond the horizon. Or: STS diaspora