In this dissertation I build theory of the social sustainability of onsite household sanitation infrastructure by leveraging organizational theory, using data collected from rural households in Guatemala and Bangladesh. The overarching research question asks what causes high failure rates in onsite household sanitation systems? This work is important because of the large number of people served by onsite technology types and also because of high observed rates of infrastructure abandonment. Since sanitation technologies are vitally important to public and environmental health, universal coverage is an urgent goal. Unfortunately, it is far from being met. As a first step towards addressing this problem, I use a literature review and expert panel to identify factors important to the sustainability of sanitation infrastructure. This work (Chapter 2) identified the importance of social factors and also showed that interactions between various factors explained the contention regarding the importance of ten factors. As such, the rest of my research focused on the topic of social sustainability, with the methodological goal of retaining attention to complexity. To build theory of social sustainability I use constructs of legitimacy and status from organizational theory. While organizational theory has never before been applied to infrastructure systems, it deals with groups of people using technology to achieve shared goals, and this is precisely what we see with infrastructure. I analyze household level interview data from Bangladesh using crisp set Qualitative Comparative Analysis to describe sanitation abandonment as a form of organizational decoupling (Chapter 3) by contrasting households with socially sustainable or socially unsustainable infrastructure. This research shows that neither a lack of demand nor economic barriers caused sanitation abandonment in the communities selected for this research. Instead the causal mechanism is decoupling, which is founded on perceptions of efficiency (whether or not desired infrastructure services are actually achieved) and competing rational myths (beliefs regarding how and why things ought to be done). This analysis leads us to suggest that, due to the impact on social sustainability, odor management should be required in the updated definition of improved sanitation as we revise and replace the Millennium Development Goals. This research also empirically identifies pathways that Guatemalan households took to achieve socially sustainable sanitation infrastructure (Chapter 4). The most practically useful of these shows that the combination of consequential legitimacy (a moral understanding of outcomes) and comprehensibility legitimacy (a cognitive model connecting outcomes to processes) leads to a socially sustainable outcome in a full 50% of the household cases studied for this work. Taken together, these findings explain and will allow us to better design sanitation infrastructure, technical knowledge mobilization, and educational outreach to support socially sustainable infrastructure.
Kaminsky, J. (2013). "Social Sustainability of Sanitation Infrastructure in Developing Communities." Dissertation, University of Colorado Boulder.