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Work and Technological Change$
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Stephen R. Barley

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198795209

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198795209.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 26 February 2021

Managing the Fears of Studying Technical Work

Managing the Fears of Studying Technical Work

(p.116) 4 Managing the Fears of Studying Technical Work
Work and Technological Change

Stephen R. Barley

Diane E. Bailey

Oxford University Press

Technical work differs significantly from most other forms of work. This chapter explores those differences and how the differences pose important challenges for ethnographers who seek to study engineers, scientists, and other technical workers. The chapter summarizes the experience of thirty-five years’ of studying technical work to capture the social dynamics of technical worlds in the way that an earlier generation of scholars captured the social worlds of industrial, craft, and clerical work. The discussion revolves around how to handle six fears that ethnographers face when studying technical work: the fear of looking stupid, the fear of mishearing, the fear of failing to understand what technical terms mean, the fear of not capturing the complexity of the work, the fear of not finishing the study, and the fear of not being able to make sense of one’s data.

Keywords:   ethnography, ethnographer, technical work, technical worker, engineer, scientist, fear

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