Related Projects


High Reliability Organisations


High Reliability Organisation (HRO), Sociotechnical History, Social Shaping of Technology (SST)


The dependability of systems in High Reliability Organisations (HROs) must be considered along two different but complementary dimensions. The first is the way the system was and is designed, developed and maintained, which involves questions of systems analysis and design, software engineering, development methodologies, and organisational culture. The second is the way the system was and is operated and how the operators handle the inevitable failures of the artifacts in order to bridge the gap between the actual service provided by the computer system and the required dependability of the service offered to consumers. This second dimension involves questions of human-computer interaction, organisational structure and culture, and social psychology. These dimensions affect one another: systems can be designed and developed in ways that make failures more or less likely; system interfaces can be designed to make their operation more or less error-prone; but even error-prone systems can be operated effectively to provide a dependable service, and even the best systems can be operated poorly.

One of the most interesting aspects of systems in High Reliability Organisations is the dependability of its service in the face of a staggering transaction load. High Reliability Organisations provide an interesting case to explore what Donald MacKenzie termed "the Hoare Paradox": given all that we know about the problems of software engineering and unreliable nature of most of its products, why are some systems able to deliver a dependable service? Perrow and the authors writing on High Reliability Organisations raise a similar question: given Perrow's argument that accidents are inevitable in highly-complex and tightly-coupled systems, how have some organisations managed to operate those systems at a high degree of reliability? Our work exploits a mix of documentary and oral evidence as historical sources looking at banking and financial systems. Capturing the way systems currently operate requires ethnographic observations.


Risk theme

Trust in Technology: A Socio-Technical Perspective (Book)

Standardisation and Organisational Knowledge



[1] Luciana D'Adderio. Configuring Software, Reconfiguring Memories: the Influence of Integrated Systems on the Reproduction of Knowledge and Routines. Industrial and Corporate Change , Volume 12 , Issue 2 , pp. 321-350 , 2003.

[2] Donald MacKenzie. Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1990.

[3] Donald MacKenzie. "How Do We Know the Properties of Artefacts? Applying the Sociology of Knowledge to Technology," in Technological Change: Methods and Themes in the History of Technology, Robert Fox, ed. Amsterdam: Harwood, 1996, pp 247-263.

[4] Donald MacKenzie. "A View from the Sonnenbichl: On the Historical Sociology of Software and System Dependability." Paper presented at the International Conference on the History of Computing, April 2000

[5] Donald MacKenzie. Mechanizing Proof: Computing Risk and Trust. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2001.

[5] Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman, eds. The Social Shaping of Technology, 2nd edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press, 1985; 2nd edition 1999.

[6] Gillian Hardstone, Luciana d Adderio and Robin Williams. Standardization, Trust and Dependability. In Karen Clarke, Gillian Hardstone, Mark Rouncefield and Ian Sommerville (eds), Trust in Technology: A Socio-Technical Perspective.

[7] Donald MacKenzie. "Social connectivities in global finalcial markets". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, volume 22, pp. 83-101, 2004.



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