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The (Mis)Framing of Social Justice: Why Ideologies of Depoliticization and Meritocracy Hinder Engineers' Ability to Think About Social Injustices

Publication Abstract

Cech, Erin A. 2013. "The (Mis)Framing of Social Justice: Why Ideologies of Depoliticization and Meritocracy Hinder Engineers' Ability to Think About Social Injustices." In Engineering Education for Social Justice edited by Juan Lucena. Dordrecht : Springer.

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.

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