Accepted paper:

Function and structure: engineering submissions to government departments


W Douglas R Potts (Australian Technology Ltd.)

Paper short abstract:

The late Professor Leach drew the analogy between engineering and functional structuralism. Claude Levi-Strauss developed the concept of mechanical and statistical models of social relations. As a chartered engineer advising government departments, this author expands on the engineering/anthropological intersection.

Paper long abstract:

Managing change in organisations is an industry in itself and a focal point of academic study. "We live in times of change" is often used with a breathless urgency as if the concept of change has just been discovered. In Kotter's "eight steps to bring about change", the first is "to bring about a sense of urgency". It is a metaphysics with a propensity to absorb energy and thus be self destroying like an undamped mechanical system. Both engineering and anthropology seek ways to understand systems and structures and the response to perturbations. An engineer for instance is unconcerned with the origins of intermolecular attraction within a material, only with useful relationships between stress and strain that are supported with empirical evidence. In Structural Anthropology Levi-Strauss writes of "mechanical and statistical" models of social relations. Engineering as a discipline is underpinned by concepts such as Lord Fisher's "community of knowledge and a life long commitment to a community of sentiment" and statistician Edwards Deming's notions of "constancy of purpose, respect for systems and profound knowledge". These structural pillars of engineering as a discipline can become contrapuntal to systems where managers, especially govenment managers "set the agenda" and "I know nothing about the topic but I know our policies". This author explores the congruence between models of systems and structures in both engineering and anthropology and extends some engineering concepts relating to dynamics that may add to the functional structural model in a way that is revealing to policy makers.

panel P01
Anthropology, diplomacy and politics