Negotiating neutrality in controversy: engineering studies after Hurricane Katrina

TitleNegotiating neutrality in controversy: engineering studies after Hurricane Katrina
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsShrum, W
JournalEngineering Studies
Date Published2010/08/01
Publication Languageeng
ISBN Number1937-8629
AbstractThis essay argues for a renewed commitment to impartiality and neutrality in scholarly research. These values are understood as the accomplishment of non-alignment in the interest of understanding the social world. This ethnographic study of the role of engineering in Hurricane Katrina provides an overview of two pivotal events in the public analysis of the disaster: the sheet pile pull at the 17th Street Canal and litigation in federal district court over environmental damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. After Hurricane Katrina, three teams of engineers and scientists were formed to investigate the flooding of New Orleans. The author's inclusion in engineering events after the storm was facilitated through membership in a team, but continued access required his resignation. This form of non-alignment became a struggle during the ensuing years, in which litigation drove forensic engineering, and the achievement of impartiality, in the wider sense, required re-alignment during the course of the trial. My argument is that these negotiations over neutrality are necessary for an understanding of engineering in the field and courtroom. Both engineers and attorneys succeeded far better than science and technology studies in contributing their collective efforts to understanding the disaster.