Obvious Decisions: Decision-making among French Ponts-et-Chaussées Engineers around 1800

TitleObvious Decisions: Decision-making among French Ponts-et-Chaussées Engineers around 1800
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsGraber, F.
Secondary TitleSocial Studies of Science
Abstract

This paper investigates the decision-making procedures in a technical assembly, the assemblée des Ponts et Chaussées, at the turn of the 19th century. The assemblée was the central institution of a French public-works administration, in which projects were discussed and adopted. The paper describes the transformations of this institution, its routine functioning, and focuses especially on a very controversial case during the Consulate, the Saint-Quentin canal, where conflicting opinions about the use of the vote emerged. The paper studies the engineers’ preference for a consensus procedure and their mistrust for the vote. It analyses the epistemological justifications of such a consensus, especially the references to different forms of ‘obviousness’, and its practical social forms, especially the importance (and ambiguous meaning) of silence.

URLhttp://sss.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/37/6/935