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?