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The translation of power: A study of boundary objects in public engagement processes

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conference contribution
posted on 24.07.2017, 12:41 by Vivien ChowVivien Chow, Roine Leiringer
Public consultation and engagement processes have become an integral feature of infrastructure development projects in many parts of the world. Regardless of the drivers behind this trend, legislative or otherwise, a key objective of the process is to facilitate information exchange between affected parties. Somewhat simplified, the process is used by the project team to garner support, collect feedback and address grievances for the project, and by a multitude of stakeholders to voice complaints, lobby for change and secure benefits for themselves. It follows that the process, despite intentions otherwise, is commonly characterised by opposing interests and unequal power relationships that lead to antagonistic standoffs between participants. This paper focuses on what takes place within the engagement process and the format through which information is exchanged. In particular, focus is on the material artefacts that are used to facilitate the information exchange. When used effectively, these artefacts act as boundary objects between participants by allowing them to work together across a diverse range of issues. The paper draws on ongoing research that explores how boundary objects are used in the public engagement process in Hong Kong. The study utilises the Latour-Callon model of ‘interessement’ to trace how information is translated through boundary objects across a series of engagement events. An argument is put forward highlighting how boundary objects both affect and are affected by power struggles between social groups, and how this in turn affects decision making and goal alignment. In so doing, the notion of the boundary objects possessing inherent properties making them effective communication tools across events is rejected, and replaced by a view that puts more emphasis on how and why they are used by the participants.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Published in

The 30th Annual Conference of the Association of Researchers in Construction Management (ARCOM)


805 - 814 (10)


CHOW, V,W, and LEIRINGER, R., 2014. The translation of power: A study of boundary objects in public engagement processes. IN: Raiden, A. and Aboagye-Nimo, E. (Eds.), Proceedings 30th Annual ARCOM Conference, 1-3 September 2014, Portsmouth, UK: Association of Researchers in Construction Management, pp. 805–14.


Association of Researchers in Construction Management (ARCOM)


VoR (Version of Record)

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at:

Publication date



This conference paper was presented at the 30th Annual ARCOM Conference held on the 1-3rd September 2014 in Portsmouth.






Portsmouth, UK