Okay, I’ve been having some interesting conversations on and offline about what boils down to engineering epistemology and identity. Of course, that’s my research area, so I dig it. And I want to start having a bigger conversation about if there’s anything particularly indelible or inherent about “engineers” or “engineering.” But first I want to throw open the comment doors, and see what your thoughts or beliefs are about engineers’ place in the world – how they construct themselves, how they reproduce or resist disciplinary narratives about engineering, why they may be more prone to believe in intelligent design (or not) or that all problems can be solved, or why they might think that they are trained to solve social problems. Let’s have a philosophical discussion about what seems to have been a part of engineering in the past, and think about whether it’s (as it were) a necessary thing for defining engineering in the future.
However, three rules for the comments: keep it constructive (no dissing the stupid-ass engineers you went to school with, for example), keep it focused on the topic, and keep it specific (no blanket statements unless you can back ‘em up, in other words). Please. Or you risk me deleting you with with my deleting wand.
To start things off: I’ve been reading Layton’s Revolt of the Engineers: Social Responsibility and the American Engineering Profession, and he talks about how engineering as a profession developed rapidly during the Progressive Era. He talks about how engineers talked about themselves as the best people to solve social problems because they believed themselves to have the rational tools for dissecting any problems and coming up with solutions. I see this philosophy still in engineering education today – engineering as the Enlightenment, engineer as the hero (and a gendered one at that) – when engineers (students, instructors) dismiss the knowledge of the social scientists and humanists as irrelevant to their understanding of issues in, for example, service learning design projects. I don’t think this has to be a part of engineering for the future, though. How can we change this attitude?
Or another thought: maybe engineers are really activists at heart, as what they want to do is change things, to solve problems. But engineers seem to be a pretty conservative bunch overall (did you know Hoover was an engineer?), and anti-union to boot. Why the apparent contradiction?
Whaddaya think? Or will this kill the comments?
Note: title corrected thanks to Elf Eye. Oops, sorry!