33 SES 09 A, Gender: Inclusion and exclusion
This paper reports from a Swedish, larger project, focused on the construction of the ’new engineer’ (Berge et al., in review), and their ability to handle contemporary societal changes (Adams et al., 2011). Historically, engineering has been a profession predominantly for men with a close relationship to technology. However, over the last decades, this view has been under re-negotiation; more heterogenic images of the engineering profession have developed, with an emphasis on leadership and ‘soft skills’ (Mellström, 1999). To respond to these changes, a corresponding shift in engineering education has occurred (e.g. Mäkimurto-Koivumaa & Belt 2016), with a focus on recruitment and retention practices for a diverse student body and workforce (Hemmo, Love, and OECD, 2008). Given these alterations, we find it worthwhile to investigate identity constructions in engineering education. This should be of international interest not at least because Sweden is considered to be at the forefront of promoting gender equality.
Earlier research on identity related to engineering professions and educations has often focused on gender issues, in particular available identity positions for women within engineering (Faulkner, 2007). Women often find themselves situated in conventionally gendered environments and must therefore negotiate their position and scientific identity relative to the dominant discourse (Smyth & Nosek, 2015). For example, women engineering students use ‘coping strategies’ to act as ‘one of the boys’ or position themselves as ‘anti-women’ (e.g. Powell et al., 2009). Often, women are talked about as ‘not fitting’ or ‘troubled’ in relation to engineering culture (Faulkner, 2007). In this paper we take a novel approach to studying how female engineering students position themselves/are positioned as ‘troubled’/’untroubled’. Our analytical gaze is on talk about bodies that do/do not ‘fit in’, in relation to space and materiality.
The aim of this paper is to explore and analyse the discursive production of gender and its intersections with other social categories among female engineers in their transition from being an engineering student to becoming an engineer. The research questions are:
- How do embodiment and materiality figure into women’s stories of transitioning into the engineering workplace?
- Which engineering trajectories are made im|possible in these stories?
Key concepts in the theoretical framework of the project are ‘identity’, ‘intersectionality’, and ‘material moments’. In conceptualising identity, the project draws on sociocultural theories of activity and identity (Holland et al. 1998), which posit that identity is co-produced with social, cultural, and material activities. That is, an individual has agency in constituting their identity, but their identity constitution also takes place in relation to the resources for participation made available to the individual and the individual’s affordances for being recognised as a particular kind of person. Thus, identity is understood as socially and discursively produced (Butler, 1990), and as such provides a theoretical vantage point for considering how the ‘doing’ of the students make them intelligible in different contexts. ‘Intersectionality’ refers to the interaction between categories of difference (such gender, ethnicity, social class, age) on societal, institutional, and individual levels (Crenshaw, 1991). A mindfulness of intersectionality consequently allows us to analyse how different bodies are produced by, and produce, categories of difference. Finally, we draw on Taylor’s (2013) notion of ‘material moments’ to explore how bodies and objects work in engineering learning spaces. This concept is influenced by Karen Barad’s (2007:170) argument that ‘bodies do not simply take their place in the world… rather “environments” and “bodies” are intra-actively constituted’. Thus, as students do engineering identities, they draw on material resources and spaces, which in turn also act upon them.
Empirical data consists of three Swedish final year female BSc Construction engineering students’ narratives about being a student and becoming an engineer, collected through video-diaries (Lundström, Ekborg & Ideland, 2012), and follow-up semi-structured individual interviews (Forsey, 2012). In the video diaries, students were asked to talk about an on-going group work on three different occasions during the project. However, they were also asked to talk about their academic and cultural backgrounds, motivation for choosing engineering, perceptions of engineering education and workforce, and career aspirations; themes that the follow-up interviews then examined more closely. The empirical data for this paper is on these latter themes. The specific program was chosen because it is not seen as academically prestigious (BSc level), predominantly attracts young, middle-class men. This program is also particularly interesting as it values practices and competencies that might be seen as more masculine (Wacjman, 1991) in comparison to, for example, the architectural engineering program. The whole student group, consisting of approximately 25 students, were asked to participate in our study and six of them (three women and three men) accepted. The video diary and interview data were transcribed verbatim and analysed using tools from critical discursive psychology (Wetherell & Potter, 1992). We looked for ‘interpretative repertoires’ (Edley 2001), identified as specific and often contradicting ways of talking about a phenomenon in everyday conversations. Different repertoires are used strategically by people as a way to make sense of their actions and ideas by representing them as ‘good’ and ‘normal’ in the specific context. Wetherell and Potter (1992) argue that repertoires relate to social structures and power relations, which means that not all repertories are available for every individual. The concept of interpretative repertoires was helpful when it came to analyse the students’ (in)ability to use different repertoires and, in this sense, the im|possibility for them to achieve different subject positions when they talked about engineering studies and engineering. Power relations are upheld when some social positions become troubled, i.e. when a position is questioned or criticized in different ways, while another position is regarded as untroubled, i.e. as a normal and righteous identity that needs no further explaining (Wetherell 1998). The two positions, ‘troubled’/’untroubled’, helped to analyse how materiality and spaces intra-acted (Barad, 2007) with notions of gender, age, social class and ethnicity in students’ talk, and thus narrating the ’ideal’ engineer body.
A preliminary analysis of interview and video diary data show several ‘material moments’ where space/place and objects work to ‘trouble’ the students’ identity positions—both gendering and ageing them. Emerging from this analysis, we see that students talk about themselves, bodies, and objects they encounter in engineering spaces in a “practice of mattering through which intelligibility and materiality are constituted” (Barad, 2007:170). Different forms of material moments emerge here, in the study context and during field visits (to construction engineering sites), that position students as troubled/untroubled. The typical construction engineering student is young and male, a typology that is rendered in sharp contrast to one of the participants, Marie, who entered the program as a middle-aged mother. Marie’s talk about engineering education reveals how objects like computers, and candles from IKEA can be mobilized in moments to position her as ‘the mom’, a troubled position in relation to the young, male students, and likewise, a troubled position in relation to the older men she encounters on field visits. These objects are dispatched to position Marie as a type of ‘mom’ that is simultaneously too old and too feminine to fit into engineering education or workplace culture. But Marie also negotiate and re-positon herself through her talk. For example, she says she prefers rather ‘a glass of red’ at home on the couch than drinking bear with the lads. In other cases, we will discuss how participants identify material moments where having ‘thick skin’ and menstruation periods become tools for them to unexpectedly take up more untroubled positions. Likewise, big stomachs, snuff, and dirt help to position some of the students as whippersnappers, that is, as too young and saucy. Notwithstanding, the female students also draw on women’s natural (biological) fragility when they position themselves.
Adams, R., et al. (2011). Multiple Perspectives on Engaging Future Engineers. Journal of Engineering Education 100(1): 48-88. Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6): 1241-1299. Edley, N. (2001). “Analysing masculinity: Interpretative repertoires, ideological dilemmas and subject positions.” In: M. Wetherell, S. Taylor, & S. J. Yates (Eds.), Discourse as data: A guide to analysis (198-228). London: Sage. Faulkner, W. (2007). ‘Nuts and Bolts and People’: Gender-Troubled Engineering Identities. Social Studies of Science 37(3): 331-356. Forsey, M. (2012). “Interviewing individuals.” In: S. Delamont (Ed.), Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. (364-376). Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar. Hemmo, V., Love, P. & OECD. (2008). Encouraging Student Interest in Science and Technology Studies. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Holland, D. et al. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Lundström, M., Ekborg, M. & Ideland, M. (2012). To vaccinate or not vaccinate: how teenagers justified their decision. Cult Stud of Sci Educ, 7: 193-221. Mellström, U. (1999). Män och deras maskiner [Men and their Machines]. Nora: Nya Doxa. Mills, J.E. & Treagust, D.F. (2003). Engineering Education – is Problem Based or Project-based Learning the Answer? Australasian Journal of Engineering Education Mäkimurto-Koivumaa, S. & Belt, P. (2016). About, For, In or Through Entrepreneurship in Engineering Education.” European Journal of Engineering Education, 41(5): 512-529.. Powell, A., Bagihole, B. & Dainty, A. (2009). How women engineers do and undo gender. Consequences for gender and equality. Gender, Work and Organization, 16(4): 411-428. Smyth, F.L. & Nosek, B.A. (2015). On the gender-science stereotypes held by scientists: Explicit accord with gender-ratios, implicit accord with scientific identity. Frontiers in Pshycology, 6:415. www.frontiersin.org Taylor, C.A. (2013). Objects, bodies and space: gender and embodied practices of mattering in the classroom. Gender and Education, 25(6): 688-703. Wajcman, J. (1991). Feminism confronts technology. The Pennyslvania State University Press. Wetherell, M. (1998). Positioning and interpretive repertoires: Conversation analysis and post-structuralism in dialogue. Discourse and Society, 9(3), 387- 412. Wetherell, M. & Potter, J. (1992). Mapping the language of racism: discourse and the legitimation of exploitation. Hemtel Hemstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
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