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Disciplinary cultures in mechanical engineering and materials science: Gendered/gendering practices?

Anne‐Françoise Gilbert (Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland)

Equal Opportunities International

ISSN: 0261-0159

Article publication date: 9 January 2009

1258

Abstract

Purpose

The paper raises the question of a persisting masculine dominance in engineering disciplines and the reasons behind it. Rather than addressing gender‐specific socialisation as a cause of the under‐representation of women in engineering education, it aims to focus on the social and cultural practices of engineering itself, asking to what extent these practices are gendered and/or gendering.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in two departments at a technical university in Switzerland: mechanical engineering and materials science. An exemplary piece of field data is analysed in order to generate relevant concepts for characterising and contrasting cultures in engineering disciplines. Results are discussed in the framework of Bourdieu's theory of the scientific field.

Findings

Group culture in materials science values individuality and plurality, hence leaving more scope for gender diversity; group culture in mechanical engineering values the subordination of individual needs to group norms and tends to reproduce features of homosocial male worlds. The results support the hypothesis that disciplinary cultures in engineering are gendered and have a gendering effect of their own.

Research limitations/implications

Case studies in other disciplines and national contexts are needed to broaden the empirical basis of the argument.

Practical implications

Policies to achieve gender balance in higher education should not only aim at supporting women, but also at changing disciplinary cultures.

Originality/value

The paper presents a shift of focus from women's socialisation to gendering practices in engineering disciplines.

Keywords

Citation

Gilbert, A. (2009), "Disciplinary cultures in mechanical engineering and materials science: Gendered/gendering practices?", Equal Opportunities International, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 24-35. https://doi.org/10.1108/02610150910933613

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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