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Ideologies of depoliticization in engineering education: A Mediated Discourse Analysis of student presentations in a first year projects course



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Having lived the injustices of engineering education as usual, as a first year professor I quickly became concerned with how students related to one another in my engineering thermodynamics class. At the suggestion of a friend, I picked up bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress; this began 10 years of transforming the course using critical, feminist, and engaged pedagogies, a process that required change in content as well as approaches to teaching and learning. I teach technical material alongside its critiques. Students analyze energy flows in engines and refrigeration systems while they ponder how power constructs scientific knowledge, investigate the ethics of energy disasters at Fukushima and the BP Deepwater rig, uncover contributions to thermodynamics outside of Western Europe, and explore North-South conflicts over action on climate change. A subsequent book project hopes to encourage other thermodynamics faculty to teach modules from this course, raising a new set of questions about the potential for transformation and co-optation. Doing this work has revealed both the importance and the limitations of teaching toward social justice in a core engineering course. In this chapter I reflect upon the institutional considerations of course development, from ABET accreditation and federal funding to departmental student and faculty cultures of resistance, revealing both “how I got away with it” and what the costs and benefits have been personally and professionally.
Introduction. Evelynn Hammonds (1994) made a field-shaping move in her essay “Black (W)holes and the geometry of Black female sexuality (More Gender Trouble: Feminism Meets Queer Theory).” Her piece was part of a special issue on queer theory in the journal differences, the second that journal had produced. She describes her experience of picking up the journal's first issue on queer theory, as well as the Gay and Lesbian Studies Reader, looking for articles that reflected in some way her experience. She notes that even when writers of color were included, “the text displays the consistently exclusionary practices of lesbian and gay studies in general. In my reading, the canonical terms and categories of the field…are stripped of context in the works of those theorizing about these very categories, identities, and subject positions. Each of these terms is defined with white as the normative state of existence” (127–128). She goes on to note the lack of reflexivity among queer theorists, who did not examine intersectional categories of difference in their own work. The theorists’ engagement with inequity, although not necessarily insincere, nonetheless stopped short of questioning the structural conditions in which the theorists themselves gained intellectual credence and other forms of cultural privilege. What can the field of engineering education learn from this critical moment in queer theory? We seek to emulate Hammonds's process in this chapter, which explores how the engineering education community tends to take up issues of diversity. In engineering, efforts to expand participation in the field have hewed to concerns that are well intentioned, but like the queer theorists’ approach, somewhat lacking in reflexivity and self-limiting in their impacts. After years of struggle, so far engineering has come to include women and [racial and ethnic] minorities to a certain extent (albeit treated as two separate categories, largely ignoring the intersection). Queerness, class, nationality, disability, age, and other forms of difference are for the most part not seen as requiring address. The focus has been on expanding the roster of who is present, using only those categories and methods familiar from decades of educational policy and practice. That is, we customarily count women and people of color, and measure gains or losses in numeric representation of those groups, as programs to end discrimination in education, recruiting, hiring, and promotion have been put into practice.
Engineers will incorporate considerations of social justice issues into their work only to the extent that they see such issues as relevant to the practice of their profession. This chapter argues that two prominent ideologies within the culture of engineering—depoliticization and meritocracy—frame social justice issues in such a way that they seem irrelevant to engineering practice. Depoliticization is the belief that engineering is a “technical” space where “social” or “political” issues such as inequality are tangential to engineers’ work. The meritocratic ideology—the belief that inequalities are the result of a properly-functioning social system that rewards the most talented and hard-working—legitimates social injustices and undermines the motivation to rectify such inequalities. These ideologies are built into engineering culture and are deeply embedded in the professional socialization of engineering students. I argue that it is not enough for engineering educators to introduce social justice topics into the classroom; they must also directly confront ideologies of meritocracy and depoliticization. In other words, cultural space must be made before students, faculty and practitioners can begin to think deeply about the role of their profession in the promotion of social justice.
Nexus Analysis presents an exciting theory by two of the leading names in discourse analysis and provides a practical guide to its application. The authors argue that discourse analysis can itself be a form of social action. If the discourse analyst is part of the nexus of practice under study, then the analysis can itself transform that nexus of practice. Focussing on their own involvement with and analysis of pioneering communication technologies in Alaska they identify moments of social importance in order to examine the links between social practice, culture and technology. Media are identified not only as means of expressing change but also as catalysts for change itself, with the power to transform the socio-cultural landscape. In this intellectually exciting yet accessible book, Ron Scollon and Suzie Wong Scollon present a working example of their theory in action and provide a personal snapshot of a key moment in the history of communication technology, as the Internet transformed Alaskan life. © 2004 Ron Scollon and Suzie Wong Scollon. All rights reserved.
Humor is a common element of human interaction and therefore has an impact on work groups and organizations. Despite this observation, managers often fail to take humor seriously or realize its numerous benefits. Humor is more than just funny concepts; it represents a multifunctional management tool that can be used to achieve many objectives. This article describes how managers can use humor to reduce stress and enhance leadership, group cohesiveness, communication, creativity, and organizational culture. Specifically, we suggest humor styles that are best suited to realize these outcomes. Additionally, the effect of humor on organizational outcomes is moderated by individual differences such as ethnicity and gender. Much like selecting the proper tool from a tootkit, managers can select the appropriate humor style suitable for the desired organizational outcome, adjust for individual differences, and achieve positive organizational outcomes.