Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Management - Faculty of Commerce


This study is a sociological exploration of the work of engineering design. The data for this research were generated from a two-year ethnographic study of three engineering design projects within an Australian iron and steel producing company. This study provides an account of the activities undertaken, by engineers and others, during the design of human computer interfaces for process control.

The study takes a symbolic interactionist perspective and acknowledges its criticisms. The study draws on Strauss's social worlds/arena theory, and Clarke's subsequent conceptualisation of the theory in an organisational context, to provide a broad set of sensitising concepts focussed on the interactive aspects of the construction of meaning amongst the social collectives involved in the process of engineering design.

The findings of this study are organised around five interlinked and over lapping themes - trajectories of technology and work, design boundaries, engineering and operator social worlds, arenas in the process of design, and routine and non routine action. These themes reflect emergent concepts identified through the constant interplay between observation and analysis.

The accounts given describe design negotiations riven through with ideologies of engineers, plant operators, and others, as individuals and as members of social collectives, such as occupational groups. I have come to understand these negotiations can be seen as battlefields with winners, losers, and only sometimes agreeable truces.

These battles are conducted according to what appear to be predetermined rules of engagement that reflect - and define - who has power and over what elements of the battle that power can be exercised. The outcomes of these battles are design specifications that guide the 'trajectory' of a technology from an initial concept toward its final shape.

This study is intended to provide a needed addition to the literature - detail on how individuals and groups go about creating new technological artefacts in an industrial design context. My hope is to assist both academics and practitioners in improving the process of engineering design.

02PartA.pdf (2829 kB)
03PartB.pdf (8827 kB)