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Title: Engineers and values : ethnographic studies of the normative shaping of engineering practice
Author: Chilvers, A. J.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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Engineers mediate processes that translate contextual social aims into infrastructures that shape our daily lives. Yet what engineers do is contested, context-bound and mediated at various scales. This work contributes a series of ethnographic studies which form a narrative on the global engineering and design consultancy, Arup, and considers how engineers should understand and engage with the appropriation of values in and through their practices. Analysis of the moral and theoretical positions of Arup’s founder, Sir Ove Arup, offers context for examining high-level organisational discourses. These are then set in analytical contrast with the practices revealed by two project ethnographies chosen as archetypes of two modes of consultancy as follows:  Monodisciplinary Design Services: The provision of structural engineering services for the design of a public building and amenity space.  Knowledge Production and Solutions Broking: The development of an electronic risk assessment tool for the management of water supply to remote, indigenous communities in Australia. While the former is found to be highly structured by external prescriptions of method and performance criteria, engineers still shape the values appropriated through design in the judgement spaces that do adhere to them. They also require moral imagination in order to recognise when professionally legitimate practices are no longer congruent with all morally salient facts. The latter case finds engineers producing new knowledge rather than simply applying pre-existing knowledge. These engineers are active originators and mediators of the values appropriated through their work, yet the resources for supporting engineers’ moral imagination are found to be lacking. Strategies for normative engagement are considered. Successful engagement ultimately requires a move away from views of organisation as fully rational, to recognising the contingent nature of knowing and acting at the level of practice, and careful attention to the diversity of experiences that result.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available