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Sociomaterial practices in engineering work: The backtalk of materials and the tinkering of resources

Alexander Styhre (Department of Business Administration, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)
Leena Wikmalm (Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden)
Sanne Ollila (Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden)
Jonas Roth (Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology

ISSN: 1726-0531

Article publication date: 6 July 2012

1762

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Citation

Styhre, A., Wikmalm, L., Ollila, S. and Roth, J. (2012), "Sociomaterial practices in engineering work: The backtalk of materials and the tinkering of resources", Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 151-167. https://doi.org/10.1108/17260531211241158

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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