Sunday, October 11, 2009

Layton and Noble

I first would like to mention that my original idea of "what is an engineer" is right now with a big question mark. I had the "enlightened" idea of an engineer as a professional who brings "beneficial things to people". There's no such thing. I'm trying to construct a definition; but right now I just have this cloudy image of a "compound mix" made of an artist, a businessman, a worker, and an entrepreneur.
Layton in his book "The Revolt of Engineers" mentioned that the idea of social responsibility was one of the pillars to build the identity of engineers (p. 62). Several speeches between 1895 and 1920 portrayed engineers as professionals who "had a special social responsibility to protect progress and to insure that technological change led to human benefit" (p. 57). Here I have to highlight that this idea of progress is the one that have "modern" societies, founded partially by the idea that "material achievements would benefit humanity and advance civilization" (p. 59).

Four other pillars are (a) the belief that laws of nature can also govern man and society (p. 66);
(b) the high importance given to methods and the mind rather than the subject (p. 66);
(c) the appropriation of the Puritanism idea of
success established in moral principles of hard work, self-denial, initiative, and loyalty (p. 70);
(d) the emphasis in the "scientific professionalism of the engineer" (p. 70-71) and the transfer of the scientific reputation to the profession (p. 58).
Chapter 3 of Noble's book "America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism" quoted many thoughts of engineers about the profession. The following is a summary of the main themes of their thoughts:
1) Emphasis in the capitalist ideology (p. 34-35).
2) Urgency to add the businessman, manager, and ''skilled worker for a large corporation'' component in the engineer's identity (p. 37-39).
3) Concern about the engineering profession becoming a "tool of those whose aim is to control man and to profit by their knowledge" (author citing O. Bates, p. 44).
4) Engineering schools shifted their focus to tailor future engineers to the industry and powerful corporations interests (p. 45).
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