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Agent-relative and agent-neutral craftworkers

conference contribution
posted on 21.04.2020 by Richard Brett, Derek Thomson, Andrew Dainty
The building conservation sector and the speculative mass housebuilding sector are both reliant on skilled manual labour. There is no formal separation between the two sectors and builders working in either share the common skill set and lineage of their specific trades. In speculative housebuilding, the primary driver of the project is profit obtained from the sale of completed units. In the conservation sector the motive is the improvement or protection of an historic building for the future, a process informed by a strong philosophy guiding the materials and techniques used. While both sectors procure their works on a commercial basis, there is a different emphasis on the importance of the act of building. In housebuilding it is a means to an end, whereas in conservation the building process is an ongoing commitment without end. A comparative approach investigates how trades which are, in essence, very similar, are enacted differently in the two environments by analysing work practices through the lens of craftsmanship. This allows the drawing of distinctions between the two work worlds and their conflicting emphasis on the teleological (housebuilding), and the deontological (conservation), and their embodiment in agent-neutral or agent-relative actions by workers. The empirical data is presented through a comparative ethnographic account of participant observation undertaken on a housebuilding site and then a conservation site. The results support the existence of a difference between deontological and teleological virtue ethics in the two work worlds but suggests workers from outside building conservation are able to assimilate with conservation site practices. Craft traits are widely held by building workers, but they are more afforded the space for expression on conservation works.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Published in

CM Abstracts, 36th Annual ARCOM Conference, 2020


Association of Researchers in Construction Management Conference, ARCOM


UK Association of Researchers in Construction Management


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

The original paper was first published by ARCOM as part of the Conference Proceedings. The paper is archived on the ARCOM CM Abstracts database at




Glasgow, UK

Event dates

7th September 2020 - 9th September 2020


Dr Derek Thomson. Deposit date: 16 April 2020


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