Introduction

In December 2012 the Maria-Goeppert-Mayer chair for “Gender, Technology and Mobility” was established at the TU [Technical University] Braunschweig and the Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences, Germany. The work group is partly financed for four years by a larger program of the federal state Lower Saxony that aims at strengthening the field of gender studies within academia. Central to the team’s work is to foster a constructive dialogue between gender studies and engineering in order to integrate gender studies knowledge into engineering education and research & development, with a special focus on mobility technologies.

The TU Braunschweig successfully applied for funding from the German federal ministry for education and research for a program “Teach4TU”.This program includes annual subprogram facilitating processes of innovation within the university’s courses. To participate, Prof. Dr. Bath’s work group collaborated with Prof. Dr. Vietor (Institute for Engineering Design); they shaped a pilot scheme called “GenderING. Gender Studies in Engineering Sciences” (ING refers to the German term Ingenieurswissenschaften=engineering sciences). (p.1)

Objectives

The innovative aim of this project is to integrate knowledge derived from intersectional gender studies into a regular university engineering course (exemplarily in the course “Introduction to Car Body Development”). In the ‘GenderING’ project, gender studies is understood as a means for reflection, especially on in- and exclusions and on marginalized positions in engineering projects. Thus, gender studies help to make formerly invisible or neglected topics visible. Furthermore, gender studies question hierarchies and power structures and emphasize the diversity of people, situations and contexts. (pp.1-2)

The project proposes objectives for the learning and teaching process. These objectives are inspired by qualifications that gender studies students acquire. They mainly centre around two basic topics:

  • To reflect upon and broadening the engineer’s own standpoint: Students and teachers are expected to learn to recognize their self-understanding and the limitations of their own perspectives. They are invited to take over new, alternative roles and learn about changing viewpoints.
  • To put engineering in context: The lecture materials as well as the resulting practices are expected to be understood within their societal context and situatedness. Artefact production is something that is never value-free – technology is designed and built under specific historical and political conditions and by specific people.

Other further aims or possible outcomes of the project from these two:

  • To allow a change in perspectives and to question the given state of the field in order to open up spaces for the development of new, even non-conventional, technological solutions. Alternative models, the use of thought experiments, especially those including formerly marginalized positions, can lead to a renewal of the discipline. (pp.6-7)
  • To strengthen the responsibility for technological design and production every engineer should be aware of – not just for their immediate environment but for different people and local and global contexts. (p.6)
  • Other possible further outcomes are that students are educated to work in a globalized world. Future engineers need to learn to be sensitive towards other cultures and to discuss and reflect upon their own background. Gender studies methods include the facilitation of interactive approaches, interdisciplinarity and target-group specific tailoring of products and procedures. (p.7)
     

Details

In the project ‘GenderING’, aspects of intersectional gender studies are to be integrated exemplarily in the course “Introduction to Car Body Development”. This module, which consists of a weekly lecture and an accompanying exercise course, familiarizes students with car development with a special focus on design engineering the car body. It provides an overview of construction methods, the use of materials, safety, ergonomics and production, production costs, etc. Additional talks are given by practitioners and car industry experts. The current format of the lectures is teacher-centered. Lecturers use examples in form of demonstration materials and visual aids. The exercise course is optional and gives student teams the opportunity to practice the expertise and knowledge gained in the lectures in test scenarios. The lectures cover topics such as requirements for car (body) development, packaging, car body composition and material, dimensioning, construction modes and production. Ideally, the module enables students to define, design and evaluate concepts for car body development according to given requirements.

The team of ‘GenderING’ consists of two researchers from gender studies in engineering und the two lecturers from mechanical engineering. One important step in interdisciplinary projects is to establish common ground. Engineering and gender studies both have developed their own academic cultures. Gender studies are rooted in the humanities and social sciences, where knowledge is mostly distributed in smaller seminars by reading and discussing texts. Engineering, in a traditional sense, is oriented toward problem-solving and teaches applied knowledge. Professional terminology and habitus in the disciplines differ as well. Thus, intensive work meetings are essential to the project. These serve to exchange basic concepts and terms and provide a deeper insight into each other’s field. Such an interdisciplinary translation work is essential, since gender studies expertise cannot be realized merely in the form of guidelines or checklists for technological endeavours.

Parallel to the work meetings, the gender studies team reviewed the existing lecture material and identified connecting points for intersectional gender studies input. These connecting points were discussed with the engineering design team. This interlinkage is important, since the goal of the project is to interweave gender expertise with the existing material rather than providing additional lectures or an add-on. Ideally, these newly integrated contents would also alter the structure of the existing module, leaving more space for an active reflection of the material by the students and shifting the focus from teacher-centred to student-centred teaching. At this point, the didactical restructuring has not been implemented.
(p.4)

Gender studies and mechanical engineering are not just two academic fields that differ in methodology, culture, and participants. They each enjoy very different positions in academia as well as in society at large. Not just in a country like Germany with its Ingenieurskultur (engineering culture), engineers holds a high social status. In contrast, gender studies is a rather marginalized discipline, in which positions are often unstable and contested in academia. One effect of this difference in hierarchies is that gender studies experts are often required to prove the significance of their input when they are engaged in technological projects. This can even lead to circular reasoning: the in- and exclusions of technological production, for example, are not visible before the process has undergone an intersectional gender studies analysis. However, if gender studies experts have to prove the relevance of their research for engineering before they enter into alliances with technological fields, it is difficult to provide results. Thus, collaborations of gender studies and engineering need time, space and acceptance of and for the discipline.

In the project ‘GenderING’, integrating intersectional gender perspectives means additional work for the teachers, too. Furthermore, they have to revise their current thinking and need to get involved in unknown territory. It is noteworthy that so far, enriching the content of the car body development lectures is successful, but to alter the structure of the course is a challenge. To reach and train important educational goals such as reflection and awareness, however, a restructuring of the current format of the lecture from teacher-orientation towards student-orientation is necessary.
(p.7)

For more details about the GenderING programme: https://www.tu-braunschweig.de/gtm/index.html. For further information, see also the LIT-Verlag upcoming book Reboot ING. Handbuch Gender-Lehre in den Ingenieurwissenschaften (edited by Corinna Bath, Göde Both, Petra Lucht, Bärbel Mauß, and Kerstin Palm).

 

*This information is extracted from the paper:  Bath Corinna & Draude Claude (2015). Diversifying a Car Body Development Course. Integrating Intersectional Gender Studies Expertise in Engineering Education. Presented at the 43rd SEFI Annual Conference 2015: Diversity in engineering education: an opportunity to face the new trends of engineering.