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Discourses of systems engineering

Akeel, UU; Bell, SJ; (2013) Discourses of systems engineering. Engineering Studies , 5 (2) 160 - 173. 10.1080/19378629.2013.795575. Green open access

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Systems engineering is unique in being characterised by its methods rather than its artefacts. Consequently, the scope of systems engineering is difficult to define. While some systems engineers contend that systems engineering is capable of addressing socio-technical problems, including climate change and terrorism, others argue that it is strictly a technical field. The paper presents the results of a discourse analysis of systems engineering textbooks, journal articles, and a qualitative questionnaire administered within the International Council on Systems Engineering United Kingdom Chapter and University College London Centre for Systems Engineering. The analysis finds three parallel accounts of systems engineering in the sampled community. These representations are of systems engineering as something new, as good engineering, and as a meta-methodology. The three distinct discourses of systems engineering diverge on its concept, origin, scope, role, training, epistemological positions, and worldview. The paper shows that claims for and against the wider applicability of systems engineering techniques to complex socio-technical problems not only chart alternative courses for the future of the field but are also grounded in particular constructions of its origins, practices and worldview. While this brings circumspection to the recent rise to prominence of systems engineering within broader engineering discussion and debate, it also provides an opportunity for reflexivity within the field as it responds to demands for integrated solutions to complex socio-technical problems.

Type: Article
Title: Discourses of systems engineering
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/19378629.2013.795575
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19378629.2013.795575
Language: English
Additional information: © 2013 The Author(s). Published by Taylor & Francis. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The moral rights of the named author(s) have been asserted.
Keywords: systems engineering, discourse analysis, engineering epistemology, engineering methodology, socio-technical systems
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Civil, Environ and Geomatic Eng
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1394342
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