Social Complexity and the Role of the Object: Installing Household Waste Containers

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Citation: Michel Bovy, Dominique vinck (2003) Social Complexity and the Role of the Object: Installing Household Waste Containers. Everyday Engineering: An Ethnography of Design and Innovation (RSS)


Tagged: Sociology (RSS) engineering education (RSS), engineering philosophy (RSS), sociotechnical (RSS)


This reading used a case study of an engineering project in a complex sociotechnical context (waste removal containers in a community where tourists and visitors frequently dumped trash in inappropriate places) as a way to discuss the differences between the ways we're able to "engineer" technologies and things and the ways we're able to "engineer" (if that's even an appropriate world) the behavior of social beings such as humans.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Clearly the two approaches must differ; we can't deal with people the same way we deal with things, but we can deal with people through the things we make -- the engineering design process is itself a dialogue and a shaper of the society and individuals who participate in it.

Or shorter still: the iterative cocreation of technological artifacts can be a mediative act in a social world.

My classmate Dana did some digging and discovered that this work was the dissertation of the authors, which makes their roles in the waste removal project described a lot more sensible; we were originally confused as they jumped back and forth between management, implementation, and "let's stand back and philosophize about this project" postings, which would be a very strange sort of role-switching to have for a "normal employee" on the project.