A new paper has been released in the ICS Occasional Paper Series by Professor Penny Harvey and Dr Hannah Knox, both from the University of Manchester.
The paper, entitled Surface Dramas, Knowledge Gaps and Interfacing Practices: On the Integrative Promise of Infrastructural Engineering, draws upon ethnographic research the authors conducted with civil engineers working on road construction in Peru.
The basis of this paper is ethnographic research that we conducted with civil engineers engaged in road construction in Peru, who contend with complex social and material environments in the course of their day-to-day work. Engineering is often understood to involve a framing which is rational, abstract and normative, with standardising and homogenising effects; and yet we discovered the inherently pragmatic and flexible nature of engineers’ daily practices. Road construction in Peru is explicitly a project with integrative ambitions; the production of enhanced connectivity not limited to linking together places which would otherwise be disconnected, or poorly connected. Large-scale infrastructural projects such as road construction must also ensure sustainability and social acceptance. With the expectation that technical projects should also integrate social concerns, the ‘social’ appears as that which the technical has failed to carry forward – a relational space that is disengaged and left behind – and in this way expert knowledge practices can produce ‘knowledge gaps’. Material and conceptual integration has to be achieved through negotiation and worked out on the ground. When engineering faces problems of dealing with the apparent disjunctures and discontinuities between the worlds of engineering practice and the everyday world of social relations, we found that the metaphor of the interface helps to hold in view the inevitability of internal discontinuity and difference.
Visit the Occasional Paper Series page to download the paper.