|Title||designing + (dis)assembling disputes: an ethnography of disputes & lawyers in the construction industry|
The UK construction industry is notorious for the sheer amount of disputes which are likely to arise on each building and engineering project. Despite numerous
The research approach was ethnographic. Fieldwork took place at a leading construction law firm in London over 18 months. The primary focus was participant observation in all of the firm’s activities. In addition, a database was compiled from the firm’s files and archives, thus providing information for quantitative analysis.
The basis of the theoretical framework, and indeed the research method, was the Actor‐Network Theory (ANT). As such, this research viewed a dispute as a set of
The research found that construction disputes generally materialise and develop prior to any one of the parties approaching a lawyer. Once the lawyer is engaged, we see the reverse of the trajectory “naming, blaming, claiming…” this being: “claiming, blaming, naming…” The lawyers’ role is to identify or name (or rename) the dispute in the best possible light for their client in order to achieve the desired outcome – the development of which is akin to the design process. The transformation of a dispute and the reverse trajectory is by no means linear, but rather, iterative and spatial as it requires alliances, dependencies and contingencies to assemble and take the shape it does.
The research concludes that construction disputes are rarely ever completely “resolved” as such. Whilst an independent third party may hand down a judgment, or the parties may reach a settlement agreement, this state is only temporal. Some construction disputes dissipate whist others reach a state of hibernation for a period of time only to pick up momentum and energy some years later. Accordingly, this research suggests that the concept of “dispute resolution” does not exist in the UK construction industry. The ultimate goal should be for parties to reach this ultimate and perpetual state of equilibrium as quickly and as cost effectively as possible: “dispute dissolution”, the slowing down of the dispute’s momentum. Rather than focusing on the design and assemblage of the dispute, the lawyers’ role therein is, or should be, to assist with the “disassembling” of the dispute.