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Resisting Neoliberalism In Global Development Engineering

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Ethical Responsibilities of Engineers in the World of Corporate Business

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1240.1 - 12.1240.16



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Paper Authors


Donna Riley Smith College

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Donna Riley is Assistant Professor of Engineering at Smith College. She teaches an upper level elective course on engineering and global development and advises the campus chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Resisting neoliberalism in global development engineering

Abstract In recent years we have seen an explosion of interest in global development engineering on our campuses. Driven by a range of goals including addressing basic human needs, working to end poverty, or providing students with cross-cultural design experience in preparation for careers in a globalized economy, numerous small-scale engineering projects have proliferated in developing countries, either driven by or with participation from U.S. engineers and engineering students. Many different models have been employed to this end, curricular and co-curricular, in collaboration with foreign governments, educational institutions or non-governmental organizations, with entrepreneurial, sustainable, appropriate technology and/or community-based approaches to design.

These engineering projects are occurring in the context of globalization and broader economic development efforts. It is important that we in the engineering community are aware of and participate in discussions around the underlying assumptions and values that accompany these trends, to learn how our efforts are (perhaps unwittingly) influenced by and even a part of them. In particular, at the heart of many development efforts lie economic and policy perspectives that are critiqued internationally and domestically as neoliberalism; as engineers learn about neo- liberalism we can clarify our stances in relation to it as we undertake global development work.

As part of this conversation, I take the position that engineers ought to resist neoliberalism in global development engineering. Although the definition itself is contested, here I define neoliberal approaches to development as those that place ultimate faith in free markets and rely on what amount to “trickle down” theories to predict redistribution of wealth. Coupled with and following from this economic approach are policy perspectives that include opposition to collective bargaining, removal of regulations on industry and trade, minimization of governmental support for social services, and privatization of public goods such as clean water. Responsibility shifts from communities or public governance to individuals.

How can engineers and engineering students undertaking engineering projects for global development resist neoliberalism? Are there effective models of technological development that depart from -- or transform – neoliberal frameworks? What can we learn from the community- based learning literature that may be adapted for work in developing communities? Through a series of case studies, we explore models for engineering development projects and student participation in them. Potential pitfalls are examined, and the implications for global development efforts within engineering education are discussed.

Riley, D. (2007, June), Resisting Neoliberalism In Global Development Engineering Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2628

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