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Opening up the sociological imagination: construction management as the enabler of society

Harty, C. and Dainty, A. (2016) Opening up the sociological imagination: construction management as the enabler of society. In: Engineering Project Organization Conference 2016, June 28-30, 2016, Cle Elum, Washington, USA. (Working Paper Series, Proceedings of the Engineering Project Organization Conference, Cle Elum, WA, June 28-30, 2016)

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It is a truism that much of construction management research is preoccupied with helping the sector to deliver buildings and infrastructure more quickly, cheaply and efficiently. And yet, historical concerns with the efficiency of production have done little to bring about an industry, or profession, which is seen as contributing to societal well-being. Indeed, it is questionable as to whether this instrumental and rationalistic approach to improvement has even had significant effects on the cost and quality of the built environment. Hence, here we try to develop a counterposition on the role of construction management research, and the construction sector more generally. We argue that the built environment is at the centre of societal interaction, both positive (such as in enabling social and physical mobility) and negative (as the reproduction of socio-economic inequalities through poor housing, limited access and so on). It is commonly accepted that good quality housing, transport and public facilities such as schools and hospitals are central to a fair society. But we see little rehearsal of these priorities in discussions on the delivery of the built environment in our field. So we ask – what would construction management (and construction management research) look like, if it placed its societal function above time, cost and quality? We take inspiration from both critical studies of projects - notably those of the Scandinavian School that sees projects as being in a constant state of drift - and Mills’ (1970) classic concept of the ‘sociological imagination’, which contends that sociological thinking should be the bridge between individual concerns and macro-level societal and economic structures. We re-cast these perspectives in relation to both technology (building information modelling) and a project (the 2012 Olympic Games) to explore the connectivity between societal contribution, and narrower pre-occupations with delivery and efficiency within the sector. This leads us to provide new provocations around the relationship between construction management and the built environment that it brings about. Specifically, seeing construction management as an enabler of the built environment shifts debates away from myopic obsessions with the management of production, to a focus on the multiple contributions that it makes to society. Moreover, it suggests a fundamentally different role for construction management research in understanding the implications of industry practices across multiple societal contexts and scales.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions:Science > School of the Built Environment > Organisation, People and Technology group
ID Code:69313

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