matthieu  Matthieu Hubert a is researcher at CONICET – CCTS (Centro de Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad, Buenos Aires, Argentina). After a MSc in engineering and a professional experience in microelectronics industry, he received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Grenoble (France). He has done various fieldworks within nanoscience and nanotechnology clusters and networks in Argentina and France (in Grenoble, as a doctoral fellow, and Paris, as a postdoctoral fellow at the EHESS). His main research topic focuses on ethnography of technoscientific practice and organization (especially technological platforms).

 

What first got you interested in engineering practice?

  My interest in engineering practice first comes from my education and professional experience as an engineer. I think I first asked myself about the nature of engineering when I was choosing my university and professional orientation at the end of high school. Even with a background of science and technology, it was very difficult to imagine what engineering knowledge and practice would be: What engineering is about? Which daily activities does it imply? To what extent does it differ from other professional activities that also require technical expertise or management skills? Whereas my professional experience in microelectronics industry gave me a few clues to answer these questions, defining the nature of engineering work remains a mysterious thing for me. Later, teaching social sciences for engineering students, I have not been surprised that they were facing the same difficulties to imagine what could be their future work. Despite having experienced a set of particular engineering practice, it is still a great challenge to reflect upon the theoretical and practical dimensions of education in engineering.

 

What challenges did you encounter when working on this paper?

The main challenges encountered were both empirical and theoretical. The empirical issue lies in the articulation of five cases studies that we have been achieved through an ethnographic approach. Despite the common methodological standpoints, the cases show very different innovation processes, involving a great variety of actors and places where technology and society are mutually shaped (international committees, research labs, technological platforms, big collaborative research programs, etc.). Accounting for such an empirical diversity has some theoretical consequences. In particular, we have chosen to focus on the many practices that deal with the "heterogeneous engineering" of artifacts. In doing so, we have not been so much concerned about the individual and collective motivations that shape engineering as a professional culture. As one of the reviewers noticed, it is also crucial to understand how engineers valorize their work, how they qualify the importance of the project in which they are engaged, as well as to know how they appreciate and feel the heterogeneous nature of their activity. This could set the stage for future inquiry.

 

What aspect of preparing your chapter gives you the most satisfaction now?

Despite the tremendous importance of engineering in contemporaneous societies, there are not so many "thick descriptions" of engineering work. As a former engineering student and professional, I think that these kinds of accounts may be very useful for future engineers that would like to know more about their main professional challenges and their future daily activities. Furthermore, whereas social and human sciences scholars often do not feel comfortable with technical knowledge, social studies of engineering may contribute to fill the gap between engineering and social sciences.