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Roads' Clinical Medicine: Hints at a Semiotic Paradigm in Infrastructure Maintenance

Abstract : Investigating knowledge production in infrastructure maintenance, this paper intends to contribute to Mol’s (1999) agenda regarding “ontological politics”. Based on fieldwork in several French local public institutions as well as private companies, it discusses the role of specific forms of attention involved in the management of public roads. Technicians in this field recurrently use a clinical lexicon: roads have “pathologies”, they need “diagnoses”, “preventive” and “curative” works. I argue this analogy deserves to be taken seriously as it hints at a “semiotic paradigm” in the terms of Ginzburg (1979). An ethnographic study in different local public bodies does suggest that reading symptoms in roads is the basis for knowledge of both infrastructures’ state and the conditions of their decay. These forms of knowledge, in turn, play a crucial role in organizing maintenance, as they are used to choose appropriate treatments, prioritize and plan budgets, and impute responsibilities in a complex network of actors (engineers, public workers, local representatives, private companies, various users). Furthermore, this clinical medicine is used by technicians and lobbyists to make maintenance matter in official agendas. Maintenance studies have challenged top-down approaches that consider norms and standards as the main drivers of material ordering processes, especially by outlining the role of mundane, improvisatory care practices on which the implementation of standards relies and depends. The case of road maintenance in French local public bodies somehow allows to take one step further: through producing specific forms of technical knowledge, maintenance also intervenes in the shaping of standards itself.
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Contributor : Roman Solé-Pomies Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Monday, November 23, 2020 - 10:45:52 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - 12:33:27 PM


  • HAL Id : hal-03018967, version 1


Roman Solé-Pomies. Roads' Clinical Medicine: Hints at a Semiotic Paradigm in Infrastructure Maintenance. EASST and 4S Joint Meeting, Aug 2020, virPrague, Czech Republic. ⟨hal-03018967⟩



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