”Soft” Knowledge As a Threat To Engineering Legitimacy?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 9:06 AM
Room: 414
Oral Presentation
Sanne HAASE , Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
”Soft” knowledge as a threat to engineering legitimacy?

The pertinent role of technology in societal development expands the demands on future engineers to “soft” skills such as intercultural communication and consideration for economic, social and environmental aspects. Therefore, the engineering profession is in a process of re-examining and re-legitimising their knowledge-base.

In spite of a general agreement on the need for future engineers to be broad thinking and hybrid, the engineering education system has been reluctant to part with traditional knowledge regimes focusing primarily on “hard core” scientific and technical competencies.

An empirical investigation of a year group of engineering students in Denmark finds that a great deal of the professional status and legitimacy of the engineer is based on the symbolic value attributed to the engineering knowledge base. The experience of hardship and endurance in relation to the demanding workload of the science and technology disciplines and a high degree of difficulty of these subjects are seen as ”tests of manhood”, ritualising the professional initiation.

This anachronistic way of legitimising the profession may bolster the self-confidence of the engineering students making it through to graduation, but it is also likely to be an obstacle to the stated objectives of engineering education systems of attracting more women to the engineering profession and of providing engineering professionals able to address challenges of a dynamic, global society.


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