Coping with stone: a short-term ethnography of skilled work in UK housebuilding

Speculative housebuilding in the UK is frequently criticised for the poor quality of its outputs and low productivity. Reliance on traditional and overtly manual methods of building are seen as contributors to these problems and this mode of production is unlikely to significantly change in the near future. Individual performances of skilled manual work in housebuilding are investigated using short-term ethnography, which includes traditional techniques of observation and interview as well as the collection of audio-visual data. A theoretical ideal type of 'pure craft' is developed which is then taken into the field and used to analyse the execution of skilled manual work and attendant judgements about the completion of that work. The results of the fieldwork firstly reveal an absence of codified forms of knowledge that cannot be fully explained by the alternative concepts of tacit knowledge. Secondly, the fieldwork validates the potential of short-term ethnography to reveal unforeseen or taken for granted behaviours that play out beyond the usual focus of construction management research.