Vinck 2  Pr. Dr. Ir. Dominique Vinck is a Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and teaches also at the Lausanne Federal Polytechnical School of Lausanne (EPFL) and at the University of Los Andes, Bogotá, Columbia. He is Director of the Laboratory for digital cultures and humanities of the University of Lausanne and Director of the Revue d'Anthropologie des Connaissances. Prior to his current position Dominique was Professor at the University of Grenoble, France, and at the National Polytechnic Institute, Grenoble and Head of the Research Center on Industrial Sociology and Innovation. Dominique has worked over twenty years in ethnography of design and innovation (in industry and in the hospital), and ethnography of micro and nanotechnologies research labs. He is currently exploring the field of cultural engineering and digital humanities: the shaping of digital tools for digital humanities and the changes in humanities related to the introduction of digital tools.

  Personnal webpage

  Dominique published, among others, Everyday Engineering – An Ethnography of Design and Innovation (MIT Press, 2003; French version, 2000; Brasilian edition, 2013), The Sociology of Scientific Work. The Fundamental Relationship between Science and Society (E. Elgar, 2010; French edition, 2010), Pratiques de l'interdisciplinarité (PUG, 2000), L'équipement de l'organisation industrielle. Les ERP à l'usage (Hermes, 2008), Les nanotechnologies (Le Cavalier Bleu, 2009), Comment les acteurs s'arrangent avec l'incertitude (EAC, 2009), Les Masques de la convergence (EAC, 2012)

 

What first got you interested in engineering practice?

  I went to the study of research and engineering practice after a journey in technology and society issues, first as technician in chemistry interested in the control of pest residues if food, than as engineer interested in technology transfer and appropriate technology, than as philosopher interested in ethical aspects of genetic engineering, and than as socio-economist interested of technology assessment and in science policy. I wanted to have a better understanding of the science and technology in the making and I was not satisfied with general theories on science or on innovation. I decided to go back into labs and design offices to understand the shaping of knowledge and technologies and to follow researchers and engineer in their action. Working with mechanical engineers, among others, I learned that the principles and functions of the technologies are not sufficient to understand what they are doing, their performance and their impact. It was necessary to enter more into the details of the day-to-day action, exploration, negotiation, construction of the machines and of their integration into a specific context. I learned also that the description and modeling of design activities presented in handbook and reference manuals in engineering give a very idealized and normative representation of the design process which have very few of the reality and of the complexity of the everyday engineering work.

 

Why did you begin researching the topic of your chapter? Was it chance/grand plan/ colleague's recommendation ...?

Regarding the chapter 3.

As I recently moved toward a new field of investigation, i.e. digital humanities, I decided to be closer to engineers and computer scientists, which are engaging themselves into this new domain. This is completely new for me. As social scientist I was far away from the humanities and from all these people working on archives. And regarding my previous fieldwork on mechanical engineering, quality management in hospitals, introduction of ERPs in firms, and micro and nanotechnologies, I was not used to work on and with computer scientist and human-machine interface designers. Thus, working with a very experimented engineer in robotics, artificial intelligence and innovative interfaces who his moving toward digital humanities was a challenge. I was very curious on how he and his colleagues were engaging into new avenues for their discipline.

Regarding the chapter 8.

When I decided in 2003 to do ethnography of research labs in the field of micro and nanotechnology, the motivation was to understand what is going on when various engineering disciplines are invited to work together, to mix themselves and to become hybrids, including mixing with fundamental researchers and with industrialists. But, from this in situ fieldwork in a lab of 35 people, I became to circulate following the actors who were, in fact, engaged in local science policy regarding sharing instruments, doing scale economies, convincing to industrialists and to policy representatives. I then discovered there where national bodies in charge of shaping the new avenues in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Circulating from one place to another, I saw that everything is locally constructed and negotiated, but all these places are interconnected and involved a huge variety of actors. I thus decided to go back to the John Law's stimulating concept of heterogeneous engineering. And working with Matthieu, who was my PhD student, was very stimulating because he learned a lot on technological platforms, design and construction of organizational devices and politics by researchers and engineers.

 

What challenges did you encounter when working on this chapter?

Regarding the chapter 3.

The challenge was to understand how engineers confronted to new challenges are doing their work if they still not have state-of-the-art, design rules and routines to orient their design and development.

Regarding the chapter 8.

The challenge was to articulate a variety of settings and activities we had observed, telling the stories of each of them but keeping a coherent approach.

 

What aspect gives you the most satisfaction now?

Regarding the chapter 3.

The satisfaction was to meet a reflexive practitioner, a very special engineer as I neither met who was patenting and publishing, managing small firms and giving stimulating conferences in academic milieu, publishing books giving a vision of the new horizons in technology, a guy involved in modelling and maths but full of human and social science readings. A creative technologist, listening to the problems of his clients and looking for a sexy concept summarizing the main idea. A very surprising mixture. Nothing to do with these multitudes of "engineerds".

Regarding the chapter 8.

The final narrative leads the reader into a very stimulating journey.

 

What advice would you give to someone beginning to get interested in engineering practice(s) research?

I would say "Go and see" like Bruno Latour in order to understand the fascinating realm of technology and engineering like it is. The engineer needs to avoid the obsession to solve the problems in order to understand better the problems and the practices of the various actors, including those of engineers. There is a lot to learn from an in-depth observation of the real practices. Engineering is not so much made of models but of modelling, not of rules but regulation, not of principles but contextualized devices. Looking at engineering practice is also to learn to describe and to tell the stories of engineers' work. But also to read pieces of social science, even if it's about cooking, playing videogames, networking or staying on the beach, and to do some go and back travels between what is going on in design offices, shop floor or board of directors, and ordinary activities out of the realm of science and technology.

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