Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries – Deconstructing Gendered Practices in Engineering Education

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Abstract

This paper aims to provide a theoretical basis for the argument that interdisciplinary education may be a way to improve the gender balance in engineering. For that purpose, it focuses on gendered and gendering practices in engineering education as a key to understand the underrepresentation of women. Opting for a social studies of science approach, mechanisms of disciplinary reproduction in engineering are examined. First, historical processes of institutionalization of engineering disciplines in the late 19th century are addressed and their gendered dimension skeched out. Then, using a piece of comparative ethnographic fieldwork at a university of technology in Switzerland, educational practices in two engineering disciplines are contrasted, namely mechanical engineering and materials science. Drawing on Bernstein’s typology of educational codes, the link between educational practices, disciplinary identities and the (re)production of gendered identities is explored in these two fields. Finally, this analysis provides the basis for a critical assessment of different types of interdisciplinarity in the context of engineering education and their respective potential for degendering engineering curricula.