Engineers Make Their Own Context: Vision-Making in the Profession

  • Matthew Wisnioski
Part of the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology book series (POET, volume 21)


Engineering is an inherently normative practice dependent on how engineers understand history. Social vision, however, when mentioned in an engineering context typically brings to mind extremist regimes such as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. But all engineers practice with assumptions about how their interventions in the material world will change society. The historian of American engineering Edwin Layton called this set of socio-political beliefs the ideology of engineering. Engineers’ beliefs, however, have not been uniform across time and geography. Engineers have worked in specific national, international, corporate, and government contexts that have influenced how they see society’s past, present, and future. This essay surveys the historical literature on engineers’ social thought and presents a detailed case study of conflicting worldviews in 1960s American engineering to explore how engineers have acted upon differing normative visions. I argue that studying how engineers contextualize their world – particularly during moments of historical crisis – provides a source of inspiration and classroom instruction for those concerned with contemporary engineering in a global world.


Contextualization New engineer Ideology Normative vision Responsibility Technological change Globalization 



The author thanks the editors for suggesting that the chapter be updated for a new audience, Jongmin Lee for his assistance in revisions, and Gary Downey for the spirit of communitas.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.STS Department 0247Virginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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