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Influencing industrial facility compliance in rapidly developing countries: Provincial practices of wastewater discharge monitoring and inspection, and responses to development agency capacity building in Vietnam

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My PhD research subjects are provincial officials attempting to normalise, and generate compliance with, industrial wastewater discharge laws in four rapidly developing provinces in and around Hanoi Vietnam, where polluting production systems proliferate and non-compliance is commonplace. Fieldwork concluded in April focused on practices, procedures and planning for engagement with polluting facilities by three units (the monitoring, inspection, and environmental protection unit) of the environment department in each province. I interviewed 46 officials, and used ‘diary exercises’ alongside ‘a monitoring files exercise’ to yield examples of practice. Canadian and Japanese development agencies worked with officials in three of the four provinces until May 2013, to encourage more strategic and consistent polluter inspections through adoption of protocols, information recording formats (databases and forms) and prioritisation criteria. I gathered extensive development agency documentation and interviewed consultants.

I am now piloting a data coding framework emerging out of theoretical ideas about organisations drawn from: sociological institutionalism and performativity theory, the communities of practice literature on how practice evolves within teams (and how it can be influenced), and thinking around how material artefacts (such as standard operating procedures and forms) shape practice. The corresponding analytical approach treats the articulation of multiple logics, partial uptake of structuring artefacts, divergence from standard procedures and un-used sections of forms, as particularly instructive. As responses to the development assistance, officials’ conceptions of ‘room for improvement’, what is taken up as useful, and what they do ‘their way’ will be explored. This talk aims to spark discussion on the theory underpinning this approach.

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