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Trevelyan 2010 Reconstructing Engineering From Practice_journal

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   PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE This article was downloaded by:On: 8 April 2011 Access details: Access Details: Free Access  Publisher Routledge  Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Engineering Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t792815951 Reconstructing engineering from practice  James Trevelyan aa  Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Perth,AustraliaFirst published on: 13 October 2010 To cite this Article  Trevelyan, James(2010) 'Reconstructing engineering from practice', Engineering Studies, 2: 3, 175 — 195,First published on: 13 October 2010 (iFirst) To link to this Article DOI 10.1080/19378629.2010.520135 URL http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19378629.2010.520135 Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  Reconstructing engineering from practice James Trevelyan* Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Western Australia, Crawley,Perth 6009, Australia ( Received 30 May 2010; final version received 28 August 2010 )Using data from interviews and field observations, this article argues thatengineering needs to be understood as a much broader human social performancethan traditional narratives that focus just on design and technical problem-solving. The article proposes a model of practice based on observations from allthe main engineering disciplines and diverse settings in Australia and South Asia.Observations presented in the article reveal that engineers not only relegate socialaspects of their work to a peripheral status but also many critical technical aspectslike design checking that are omitted from prevailing narratives. The articleargues that the foundation of engineering practice is distributed expertise enactedthrough social interactions between people: engineering relies on harnessing theknowledge, expertise and skills carried by many people, much of it implicit andunwritten knowledge. Therefore social interactions lie at the core of engineeringpractice. The article argues for relocating engineering studies from the curricularmargins to the core of engineering teaching and research and opens new ways toresolve contested issues in engineering education. Keywords:  engineering practice; engineering education; engineering identity;distributed expertise Introduction This article draws on a large body of empirical data from interviews and fieldobservations to show how some engineers tend to hide the social dimension of theirwork behind a technical facade, and, in doing so, marginalize important aspects of their work. Extensive first-hand experience has influenced the selection and analysisof data. The article proposes a model that helps to expose the social core of technicalengineering practice. While the model is based on the full body of empirical data, thisarticle can only present a small part of the evidence behind it.Most existing descriptions of engineering practice have emphasized technicalproblem-solving and design. The need for an improved description arose from first-hand experience of employing engineers in Pakistan to design and constructprototype equipment for landmine clearance. These engineers were unable to meetexpectations based on experience with similarly experienced mechanical andelectrical engineers in Australia. Neither the level of qualification (bachelor ormaster degrees) nor the country in which it was gained (Pakistan, UK) appeared tomake any difference. Interactions with industrial firms led to the realization that one *Email: james.trevelyan@uwa.edu.au Engineering Studies Vol. 2, No. 3, December 2010, 175–195 ISSN 1937-8629 print/ISSN 1940-8374 online   2010 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/19378629.2010.520135http://www.informaworld.com  D o w nl o ad ed  A t : 13 :15 8  A p ril 2011  has to adopt a different level of expectation in order to make realistic performancepredictions for engineering work in South Asia. However, it was very difficult toexplain the differences when compared with Australia. Pakistani and Australianengineers had experienced similar engineering education curricula. However therewas a large difference in aspects that one might describe as ‘practical skills,’ theability to produce practical, working results, but it was very difficult to articulateexactly what this term meant. The research behind this article srcinated from thischallenging observation.As explained later, there are remarkably few published accounts of systematicresearch examining the work of ordinary ‘everyday’ engineering in industrializedcountries and there were none from the developing world at the time. This lack of research evidence led to a decision to include an investigation of engineering practicein Australia in order to provide a baseline for comparison. Gradually, the objectivebecame clearer: a model of engineering practice that could explain performanceobservations in different settings and disciplines. At first it was difficult to see how somany different styles of practice, language, and thinking adopted in differentengineering disciplines and practice settings could be accommodated into a conciseframework for analysis. A single setting such as metal component manufacturingengineering that exists in both Australia and South Asia became a useful way tofocus on the differences, but a broader sample was needed for a model with widevalidity. Even though the data came from a variety of different settings andlocations, a remarkably consistent and extensive pattern of common practicegradually became apparent. Engineers tend to share an identity mainly framed interms of the solitary technical: problem-solving and design. As explained later, amodel of engineering as a combined human performance, in which expertise isdistributed among the participants and emerges from their social interactions,exposes the social at the core of technical practice. 1 We may need to refine thetechnical/social dualism by which engineers partition their work into mainly solitarytechnical work on the one hand and all the other seemingly mundane work they dowith other people on the other hand. 2 Engineers also relegate many critical aspects of their technical work that rely on distributed expertise, such as checking and review,to secondary status. The article presents evidence revealing how these aspects oftenare the ones that create the real value that emerges from engineering practice, andhow some engineers seem to miss these connections. The theoretical model presentedin this article also provides insights that could help resolve some contested aspects of engineering education.The model has also provided some preliminary answers on the differences inengineering practice between South Asia and Australia, and these will be reported ina future paper. 1 There is a remarkable similarity between our observations and those reported in Brown et al., Distributed Expertise in the Classroom , 1993, 188–194. Several other informative discussions of distributed cognition in education appear in the same book. Distributed cognition in a navalcontext was also discussed in Roberts, ‘‘Some Characteristics of One Type of High ReliabilityOrganisation,’’ 1990; and Roberts, Stout, and Halpern, ‘‘Decision Dynamics in to HighReliability Military Organisations,’’ 1994. 2 Faulkner, ‘‘Nuts and Bolts and People,’’ 2007; Lagesen and Sorensen, ‘‘Walking the Line?,’’2009. 176  J. Trevelyan  D o w nl o ad ed  A t : 13 :15 8  A p ril 2011  Studies on the work of engineers In the 1970s and 1980s, there were detailed studies of engineers using the jobanalysis method revealing survey data showing, for example, that engineers spentabout 60% of their time interacting with other people. 3 The aim of job analysis hadmore to do with establishing relativities in pay and responsibility than understandingengineering practice. These studies, therefore, were not designed to provide acoherent view of engineering practice. However, they provided useful data onparticular firms.Several studies of engineers explored social relationships between engineers andthe wider structures of industrialized societies. 4 The rapid economic ascent of Japanrelative to other industrialized countries during the 1980s motivated a series of comparative studies. 5 Sociologists interested in the details of daily practice havedescribed many difficulties in studying engineers, such as technical jargon and theintellectual nature of critical aspects of the work that cannot be directly observed. 6 The interests of organizations with the capacity to fund research tend to confine thefocus to design, innovation, 7 and software engineering 8 with only a few representingeveryday engineering. 9 Technicians and engineers with more hands-on content intheir work are slightly easier to understand and several informative studies haveappeared. 10 Most studies have been written for Science and Technology Studies(STS) specialists and few are easily accessible for engineers or their educators, ourprimary constituencies. 11 While these studies have contributed to our understanding 3 Youngman et al.,  Analysing Jobs , 1978, 7–9. 4 E.g. Bailyn and Lynch, ‘‘Engineering as a Life-Long Career,’’ 1983; Meiksins and Smith, Engineering Labour , 1996; Suchman, ‘‘Organising Alignment,’’ 2000. 5 E.g. Kilduff, Funk, and Mehra, ‘‘Engineering Identity in a Japanese Factory,’’ 1997; Lam,‘‘Engineers, Management and Work Organization,’’ 1996; Lam, ‘‘Embedded Firms,Embedded Knowledge,’’ 1997; Lynn, ‘‘Engineers and Engineering in the US and Japan,’’2002; McCormick,  Engineers in Japan and Britain , 2000. 6 E.g. Whalley and Barley, ‘‘Technical Work in the Division of Labour,’’ 1997, 34; Zussman, Mechanics of the Middle Class , 1985, 28. 7 E.g. Bucciarelli,  Designing Engineers , 1994; Eckert et al., ‘‘What Designers Think We Need toKnow About their Processes,’’ 2004; Kidder,  Soul of a New Machine , 1981; Kunda, Engineering Culture , 1992; Leonardi and Bailey, ‘‘Transformational Technologies and theCreation of New Work Practices,’’ 2008; Vincenti,  What Engineers Know and How They Knowit , 1990; Vinck and Blanco,  Everyday Engineering , 2003, 13–28; Wilde, ‘‘The Skills andPractices of Engineering Designers Now and in the Future,’’ 1983. 8 E.g. Kogan and Muller, ‘‘Ethnographic Study of Collaborative Knowledge Work,’’ 2006;Perlow, ‘‘The Time Famine,’’ 1999; Sonnentag, Niessen, and Volmer, ‘‘Expertise in SoftwareDesign,’’ 2006. 9 E.g. Faulkner, ‘‘Nuts and Bolts and People,’’ 2007; Faulkner, ‘‘Doing Gender in EngineeringWorkplace Cultures,’’ 2009; Korte, Sheppard, and Jordan, ‘‘Early Engineering WorkExperiences,’’ 2008; Yun, ‘‘Technical Workers in a Newly Industrialising Economy,’’ 1991. 10 E.g. Barley and Bechky, ‘‘In the Backrooms of Science,’’ 1994; Barley and Orr, ‘‘BetweenCraft and Science,’’ 1997; Bechky, ‘‘Sharing Meaning across Occupational Communities,’’2003; Horning, ‘‘Engineering the Performance,’’ 2004; Mason, ‘‘Production Supervisors inBritain, Germany, and the United States,’’ 2000; Orr,  Talking About Machines , 1996; Zabuskyand Barley, ‘‘Redefining Success,’’ 1996. 11 Some readers might see engineering studies as a niche in a cathedral of social science studies.As an engineer I see this differently: a more pragmatic approach in which engineering studiesilluminates the core of engineering practice, as I argue in this paper. Engineering studiesscholars, therefore, can argue for the attention of engineers and their educators as a primaryconstituency in which social science offers pertinent insights. Engineering Studies  177  D o w nl o ad ed  A t : 13 :15 8  A p ril 2011

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