Breakdowns and assemblages: Including machine-actants in sociolinguistic ethnographies of blue-collar work environments

Daan Hovens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

24 Downloads (Pure)


A central concern in sociolinguistic ethnographies has been how people use language to make social distinctions. This article discusses the relevance of paying closer attention to the role of machines as actants in communication and social distinction-making processes. It analyses audio and video-recorded workplace interactions between humans and machines in a metal foundry in the Dutch-German borderland. Specifically, it focuses on several cases of a breakdown of a production process, a frequently observed phenomenon in the foundry. The cases show that: (1) the production work entails many improvised human–human and human–machine interactions as opposed to Taylorised working practices; (2) the machine-actants initiate and afford (re)negotiations of situated, hierarchical workplace relations through these interactions; and (3) the question whether these interactions should be considered ‘language-centred’ or ‘language-marginal’ partly depends on an ideological, conceptual distinction between what counts as ‘language’ and what not.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-23
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Sociolinguistics
Issue number1
Early online date16 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • assemblage
  • blue-collar workplace
  • ethnography
  • human-machine interaction
  • posthumanism
  • sociolinguistics
  • workplace communication

Cite this