Working in the Crowded Underground: One Call Services As a Boundary Object

The network of high pressure natural gas pipelines under towns and cities operates with little public or academic attention. Since the pipelines are buried, they are largely invisible and awareness is low until there is a serious accident (e.g. Ghislenghien, San Bruno). Importantly, pipeline integrity is threatened by activities of third parties outside the pipeline sector such as local councils, other utilities and civil contractors doing work on other kinds of infrastructure. This paper focuses on how Dial Before You Dig (DBYD) – Australia’s one-call service for those doing civil works – functions at the boundary between the social worlds of various relevant actors. Drawing on more than 50 interviews with those involved in work near pipelines, the authors conceptualize DBYD as a boundary object. The pipeline sector sees DBYD as an effective system that minimizes risk to their assets. Those working near pipelines see it as a system that should support their own business goals. Nevertheless, the interpretive flexibility of DBYD allows cooperation without complete consensus. The boundary object framework reveals three key aspects of the social architecture provided by DBYD – the extent to which temporal considerations vary, the way in which the system institutionalizes conflict and how DBYD constitutes a form of surveillance by one sector over another. The paper argues that as more essential services, including those that are potentially hazardous, are located in the ‘crowded underground’ below cities, it is more important than ever to understand how the relevant actors interact.


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  • Accession Number: 01684469
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Oct 19 2018 3:06PM