Monday, March 26, 2007

Education for technology labor

Two readings this week, broadly speaking, consider the racialized science of management. In “The Anxious Engineer,” Amy Slaton explores how the seemingly value-neutral field of engineering, one of many educational enterprises, is related to strengthening or correcting social stratifications. If engineering schools can strengthen or weaken social stratifications, they are not only educational institutions, but also centers of social business in which minority inclusion – or exclusion – is carried out. Two cases – the University of Illinois and Prairie View University’s Center for Applied Radiation Research (CARR) – exemplify this point. Though the University of Illinois accepted minority students – African-Americans and Latinos – based on the idea of educational equity, the school hesitated to provide remedial coursework for those minority students with insufficient math skills. Thus, though the school lowered entrance standards, it did not couple this measure with corresponding changes in curriculum, consequently resulting in the exclusion of minority students from the field of engineering. In contrast, CARR produced increasing numbers of minority PhD students in the engineering field, supported by NASA’s flexible definition of productivity.

In “The Work of Corporate Culture,” Avery Gordon explores the racialized science of management in corporative settings, focusing on its ahistorical framing of race and gender issues. At base, Gordon situates the issue of diversity management in the context of the changing social contracts of the 20th century, in which the function of the state is transferred to private enterprise as a result of the development of capitalism. Diversity management in corporations is, in essence, “capitalist management,” in which maximizing profit is the only goal. In this context, Gordon argues, diversity management “upholds and defends systems that produce racializing effects,” though it rejects discrimination on the basis of race or color. He calls this new type of management “liberal racism,” which is an “antiracist attitude that coexists with support for racist outcomes” (p. 17). However, he does not specify or give the evidence of “racist outcomes” in corporations. It seems that he focuses more on ‘who’ manages for ‘what’, and what is maintained by diversity management, than on what they manage. Thus, it appears that his distrust of the managerialism on which hegemonic blocks lean in order to maintain their social status leads him to further suspicion of one of managerialism’s variations, i.e., diversity management.



Discussion questions

1. Amy Slaton appears to argue that racial inclusion (i.e., equity) should be seriously considered in the production of even high-tech engineers. Do you agree with her argument? If you were in a position to screen students applying to engineering school, which criteria would you give more weight – race and gender or skills required and background knowledge?

2. Is education’s primary social function to maintain the status quo (functioning as one of the ideological apparatuses as Louis Althusser argued) or to reform society? Engineering education is somewhat related to the distribution of technology. If this distribution excludes certain social groups and in doing so perpetuates social stratification, technology is also somewhat related to solidification of the status quo. Is the purpose of technology to maintain social structure or to transform it (as exemplified in the digital divide debate)?

3. If the establishment of a classification system implicates serious political concerns as Geoffrey Bowker argued, removal of a certain classification system must include political dimensions as well. Do you find any removal of an existing classification system in diversity management? If so, what is the political implication of such a removal?

4. It appears that ‘effectiveness’ governs the development of any technology. What other factors can we identify in the development of technology according to Amy Slaton’s article?

3 comments:

natezilla said...

It appears that ‘effectiveness’ governs the development...

From the OED:
Develop
To unfold, unroll (anything folded or rolled up); to unfurl (a banner); to open out of its enfolding cover. Obs. (in general use.)

Moving on to...

Effectiveness
The quality of being effective, in various senses.

Leading up to...

Effective
That [which] is concerned in the production of (an event or condition; rarely, a material product).

Uh oh...holy paradox, Batman. If effectiveness is a quality of something which is concerned with the production of an event or condition, and development is the process of unfolding, we have a chicken and egg problem. We can't know the effect without the process, and, according to the above statement, we can't 'govern' the process without knowing the effect.

But is this important? I'm not sure yet. What can this vortex-like behavior do to the trajectory of 'effectiveness' that governs behavior?

Electra said...

1. Amy Slaton appears to argue that racial inclusion (i.e., equity) should be seriously considered in the production of even high-tech engineers. Do you agree with her argument? If you were in a position to screen students applying to engineering school, which criteria would you give more weight – race and gender or skills required and background knowledge?

I don't think it's as simple as giving more weight to race, gender, skills or background knowledge. It is about having the training available to students from a non-traditional background and creating a diverse group of engineers.

Anna said...

3. If the establishment of a classification system implicates serious political concerns as Geoffrey Bowker argued, removal of a certain classification system must include political dimensions as well. Do you find any removal of an existing classification system in diversity management? If so, what is the political implication of such a removal?

When Slaton discusses the different approaches to improving racial inclusion and equity in university settings, rather than equating this with a removal of an existing classification system, I immediately thought of Bowker's "borderlands" and "boundary objects": in Chapter 9 of Sorting Things Out he presents the idea that universities seems to offer the ideal opportunity for the creation of a "boundary object" engineered "in the service of creating a better society." He points out that "this has been the goal of progressive education, multiculturalism in the universities, and the goal of the design of information systems that may be accessed by people with very different points of view." (Bowker 1999, 305)

While I agree that this is a noble and intellectually-stimulating approach, I question its effectiveness (in the commonly understood sense of the word). First of all, I question whether radically-altering the definition or practices of an institution in favor of a group doesn't also perpetuate inequalities - of a different nature, perhaps, but inequalities nonetheless.

On another level, I think that this question also relates to a question raised at the beginning of the semester concerning the place of pedagogical technology in the university. One factor that I felt Slaton did not sufficiently address in The Anxious Engineer was impact of the availability of funding on the willingness accommodate minority special needs. A relatively simple modern response might be to simply offer asynchronous remedial resources.