What Fragility? Multiple Professional Visions in the Maintenance of French Public Roads

  • Roman Solé-Pomies


A growing body of work in STS has highlighted the ambiguousness of infrastructure maintenance, as an activity that contributes to reproducing sociomaterial order while bringing to light its very fragility. The case of local public roads in France is instructive in this respect: for about a decade, a variety of public and private actors have been raising concerns about the fragility of this abundant infrastructure, questioning the organization of knowledge production for its maintenance after the withdrawal of centralized state engineering. This article draws on a multi-sited inquiry to extract three ethnographic vignettes that suggest the coexistence of multiple knowledges in road maintenance, oriented toward contrasted forms of fragility. I analyze these knowledges as professional visions (Goodwin 1994), associated with different notions of the most relevant expertise to make infrastructures last. The coexistence of multiple visions of infrastructural fragilities thus gives rise to new uncertainties: as the case may be, these visions might either contribute to a stabilized division of labor, or challenge existing institutional frameworks. These remarks invite us to systematically question the plurality of modes of knowing that organize infrastructure maintenance, in order to further widen the analysis of the complex relationships between material and organizational fragilities.


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