Practice and its Overflows: Reflections on Order and Mess

Lucy Suchman


Abstract The starting point of this paper is the problem of how STS researchers make the objects of their research, considering that researchers are an integral part of the practices through which their research objects are made. A “center of coordination” in an airport is used as an example to show how a schedule, used as an ordering device within the ongoing work, operates at the same time as a form of normative prescription for what the work should come to. The schedule demonstrates how prescriptive representations presuppose the work of their enactment, in ways that differ from representations used to describe “natural” events, insofar as the former are constitutive of the processes and practices to which the artifacts are accountable. Finally the paper draws on the work of John Law (2004) to show how consistent relations, i.e. orderings, are maintained through routines that, in producing other relations, constitute mess. In this respect, the order created by the researcher in analyzing the situated use of the schedule is not different in kind from the order created by the members’ practices to manage the traffic of planes.

Keywords Apparatus; center of coordination; normative prescriptions; order/mess; practice.

Full Text: