Fuerst Saskia, Paulitz Tanja, Prietl Bianca | The Gendering of Knowledge in Engineering: Constructions of the "Ideal Engineer"

Abstract

The natural sciences, engineering and the humanities have established universal gender norms that have been identified and analyzed by Gender Studies. This fact, which will be discussed at the conference, "Gendered Ways of Knowing?", has been primarily examined in relation to the natural sciences and humanities. Furthermore, in these works, the category of gender has been understood as a binary construction and so employed as an analytical framework. However, little research has been done on the area of engineering, which became a part of the scientific field in the late 19th century. Regarding the available gender studies scholarship on engineering, the recent trend has been to look at women’s exclusion from this field at the level of social practices. Both the exclusion focus and the presupposition of the existence of the binary gender order have promoted a dominant, mostly unchallenged, hypothesis within gender studies of technological aspects as socially masculine-coded and non-technological (emotional, social, etc.) aspects as feminine-coded.
In our presentation, we will argue that presumptions, especially about the binary gender order, have tended to reproduce this very dualistic structure in relation to engineering. In this context, engineering in the German speaking area serves as a useful example through its specific historical development from the time of its 'scientification' to date. Engineering has been situated at the margins of science and has continuously struggled with its self-conception as either theory-oriented science of machinery, applied science or practice-oriented science. It thus offers a more complex research field for the analysis of gender dualisms. The prominent theory/practice debates within the field of technology may have relevance for the scientific field in general, too. In the framework of the project, ”Gendering Boundaries in Engineering” , we analyze the constructions of gender that have emerged in the history of German engineering with special regard to the theory/practice distinction which has produced diverse, modern understandings of technology, its actors and its area of activity.
In order to avoid a simplified approach towards the examination of gendered constructions of the 'ideal engineer', we integrate the newer conception of intersectionality and ideas presented in postcolonial studies, masculinity studies and historical approaches.
In the paper, we will present the initial outcomes from the project. We will show how the binary gender category remains marginal in the professional engineering discourse and how different, multiple constructions of masculinity have evolved in the course of the professionalization of engineering as an academic discipline and also up to the present. These masculinities are predominantly formed in the negotiation between class status and ethnicity.

Key words: Knowledge, Engineering Science, Masculinity, Gender Symbolism, Engineering Profession