Key words: sociology, Assistance in Mastery of Usage (AMU), accompaniment, research-action.

Described as a soft science and decried as abstract and critical, sociology has difficulty being identified as legitimate in urban and transition projects. However, a sociologist’s survey and analysis of representations, discourses and practices, particularly of users, shows that he or she has just as much place as technicians, since the performance of a building also depends on its internal use; just as the circulation and use of urban facilities vary according to many sociological factors. Another example is that bio-based materials are not specific to the building sector: they are associated with the development of sectors and infrastructures linked to the agricultural sector. Responding to the challenges of sustainable development therefore calls for a decompartmentalization, carried out by a group of actors, each expert in their own field. To support them in the changes to be made, in their transition, the sociologist “observ’actor”, both observer and actor, has the capacity to accompany them. In this way, he/she takes on the role of Assistant in Mastery of Usage.

L’Assistance in Mastery of Usage (AMU)… what is it?

There is no official or unique definition of Assistance in Mastery of Usage (AMU). Some people prefer to speak of support rather than assistance, and of “quality of use” rather than “control of use”.

At once professional approach, approach, method and mission, AMU is plural.

It can be defined as a field of professional activities and missions aimed at integrating the needs and aspirations of users and involving them in certain choices/decisions in the built environment, from the “upstream strategy” phase to operation, or even requalification.

The aim is to encourage both the appropriation of their living environment and links with technical and design players, and ultimately to reconcile comfort, sobriety, performance and quality of life in the long term.

In 2013, the members of the network have chosen the term AMU, echoing the Project Management Assistance. The acronym was used to confer an identity that could be appropriated by building professionals and to enhance the place of users within construction projects. Since then, the network has continued to bring together professionals around fundamental and structuring characteristics.

Definition and image from the White Paper, available on the website:

In all cases, the sociologist “observ’actor” will carry out this work of taking over the expertise and needs of each actor in order to try to play the role of AMU in order to support this group in achieving a common objective.

The added value of sociology in an urban and transition project.

The sociologist will try to grasp the perception and opinion of the actors within the phenomenon he or she is studying; in other words, the vision of an object (perception) and the judgement they make about what they describe (opinion). He/she must therefore understand the representations and discourses of the actors that will take shape through their actions and in their interests (individual or collective).

In an urban or transition project, the sociologist can be called upon for his/her skills on environmental issues: the role expected is no longer just that of a “researcher” where he/she will use tools (observations, interviews, questionnaires, etc.) to gather information and analyse the situation.

He/she will also be a prescriber with recommendations from the field, particularly in the case of “action research”, which will lead him/her to an advisory role. If he/she accompanies the implementation of his/her recommendations, follows them and observes the dynamics, then he/she becomes an “observ’actor”. (Carlisi-Ridacker C., 2019).

The sociologist as « observ’actor ».

The sociologist “observ’actor” coalesces a twofold position with the word “suitcase”:

  • Involvement, or even commitment, in a project as an “actor” with the implementation and follow-up of its recommendations;
  • The distancing by “observation” during the analyses. Let us take a “territory”, a constructed place that includes several spaces where representations and practices differ according to the actors. The sociologist will try to understand them and observe the use, appropriation and interactions between human actors (conflicts, negotiations, uses, etc.) and non-human actors (equipment).

Passeur de mondes (Poirot-Delpech S. & Raineau L, 2012), the sociologist consults all the actors having a direct impact on a phenomenon and reformulates the discourse of each one in a common sense in order to recommend significant actions. The entire construction of the approach that comes to life around his or her recommendations under the aegis of a sponsor is observed with an objective eye. Monitoring the progress of a project involving numerous actions and involving various stakeholders enables the project to identify dysfunctions, difficulties and needs, but also to validate or repeal recommendations resulting from analyses carried out upstream, as well as the possibilities for adapting the approach to be replicated.

In other words, the sociologist acts as a mediator between decision-makers, designers and users, where he/she can take on a more formal role in their support: that of Assistance in Mastety of Usage (AMU).

For more information, contact Cyrielle CARLISI RIDACKER (