Socially Just Engineering: Power, resistance, and discourse at Site 41
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While engineers and their patrons have always claimed that technology has advanced the common good, I intend to show that more often than not engineers have been mercenaries for those at the center of knowledge, power, and wealth. Engineers design technology that marginalizes certain types of knowledge, people, and culture in favor of those at the center. Far from being a common good, engineered systems have advanced social and environmental inequity by being designed using exploitative social, political, and economic methods. In response to the negative impacts of engineered systems, the mainstream engineering profession has committed in recent years to being much more socially and environmentally responsible. However, the discourse of responsibility adopted by the profession is narrow in scope as it does not recognize the context and process in which technology is designed. Seeking a different way, some engineering reformers are attempting to create different cultures in engineering, in which the technology designed by engineers not only minimizes damage but seeks to create more equity in our communities. These new cultures have been articulated as Humanitarian Engineering or Peace Engineering or Social Justice and Engineering. A key component of these cultures is the concern for the needs of the marginalized whether in communities far away or close to us. While much has already been written about changing the education curriculum, little has been written about how engineers may design technology that values and advances knowledge, people, and culture at the margins. This thesis will theorize as to how engineers may design technology in a socially just manner by articulating an engineering design theory based on power and resistance. This design theory is then validated through discourse analysis of a contentious engineering project, the Site 41 landfill in northern Ontario. I show through the analysis of engineering design discourse at Site 41 that dominant power relations created structures of oppression that marginalized non-experts, Aboriginal communities, and the environment. Alternative design methods that resist these oppressive structures such as participatory, ecofeminist, deep ecological, and decolonized design are proposed as a way for engineers to have worked more justly at Site 41.