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Depoliticization and the Structure of Engineering Education

Publication Abstract

Cech, Erin A., and Heidi M. Sherick. 2015. "Depoliticization and the Structure of Engineering Education." In International Perspectives on Engineering Education edited by Steen Hyldgaard Christensen, Christelle Didier, Andrew Jamison, Martin Meganck, Carl Mitcham, and Byron Newberry. Dordrecht : Springer.

The need for engineering students to develop nuanced understandings of the cultural, social, and political contexts of socio-technical systems has never been more obvious to engineering leaders and decision-makers. Yet, engineers often have obtuse definitions of their responsibilities to the public and seem to engage with the socio-cultural contexts and consequences of their work only in times controversy. A central underlying factor in this disengagement from considerations of social justice and equality is the ideology of depoliticization, the belief that engineering is a purely "technical" space in which engineers design technological objects and systems stripped of political and cultural concerns. In this chapter, we ask, what role does the culture and structure of engineering education play in promoting depoliticization? After elaborating the ideology of depoliticization, we argue that the culture of engineering pedagogy and the traditional curricular structure of engineering education (both its accreditation process and its intra-program curricula) help support and promote an ideology of depoliticization in engineering and train students to adopt this ideology within their own understandings of their professional roles and responsibilities. We end by discussing the consequences of having depoliticization embedded in the culture and structure of engineering education, and suggest possible policy solutions to re-politicize engineering education.

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