Sociomaterial practices in engineering work: the backtalk of materials and the tinkering of resources
Journal article, 2012
Purpose: Engineering work is a specific form of sociomaterial practice, drawing on and combining social and material resources to accomplish desirable effects, often combining technological and social resources. A study of an electrical engineering development project suggests that the work unfolds as a process whereby technological artefacts are verified on the basis of testing procedures and whereby events concerning technological failure, what has been called the "back-talk" of technology, are handled using joint problem-solving. The purpose of this paper is to report on a study of a new product development project at a multinational telecommunications company. Design/methodology/approach: An ethnographic case study of a new product development project at a major multinational telecommunications company was undertaken. Findings: Engineering work is based on distributed know-how and joint collaborations, emerging as a patchwork of activities where one single person may know a lot, but not everything, about the technology-in-the-making. The paper concludes that joint concern for the technology, manifested as its gradual advancement, is what serves as the glue holding the community of engineers together. Originality/value: The paper presents an original study of the work of a team of electrical engineers and inquires into how engineers combine technical and social resources when attempting to make the technology work.