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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Professor Pauline Leonard joins the WSI team as Director

Published: 3 September 2019
Professor Pauline Leonard
Professor Pauline Leonard

Pauline Leonard is Professor of Sociology and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and of the Royal Society of Arts.

Pauline says 'I am delighted to join the Web Science Institute as a Director. Although I have been collaborating with many colleagues at the WSI for quite a few years, either as Co-Supervisor or Examiner or through shared research interests, it still feels new and exciting to be stepping up to become a Director.

My own research interests centre on the impact of digital technologies on working lives and identities. I am particularly interested in how new technologies such as AI may change the form and shape of our work, our relationship to this and how we understand ourselves. I am also concerned with questions of the diversity inherent in increasing deployment of AI in our working and everyday lives, in terms of both production and outcomes.

My interest has been enhanced in recent months through an ESRC funded placement at the global Engineering and Consultancy practice, Mott MacDonald. While it is widely acknowledged that developments in digital technologies offer transformative potential to the infrastructure industry, to date, it has been slow to digitise. In partnership with Dr Roger Tyers, an ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology here at the University of Southampton, I collaborated with Mott MacDonald on a research project to investigate the human and social issues challenging the digitisation of the infrastructure industry. A report, Engineering the Revolution? A Social Approach to Digitisation in the Infrastructure Industry, summarises the main findings. It draws on around 50 interviews with key informants in Mott MacDonald and other stakeholder organisations to argue that challenges in skills and tools exist, but that a pervasive risk-averse and traditionalist culture within the industry prevents the full potential of digital technologies in being realized. At the same time, some view digital developments as a silver bullet-an automatic panacea not only for the productivity levels of the industry but also for the public’s engagement with infrastructure. Balancing caution and the ‘full steam ahead’ approach creatively, a space exists to harness technology responsibly for carefully crafted projects to deliver greater social and environmental impact.'

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