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The Island of Other: Making space for embodiment of difference in engineering

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Difference, Disability, and (De)Politicization: The Invisible Axes of Diversity

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1221.1 - 23.1221.19



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Paper Authors

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Donna M Riley Smith College

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The Island of Other: Making space for embodiment of difference in engineeringIn recent years the ASEE Exhibit Hall has featured a Diversity Booth containing displays fromseveral organizations including a number of professional societies representing racial and ethnicminorities in engineering, the Society of Women Engineers, and the National Organization ofGay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals. In a sea of white straight male ablebodies roaming the hall, this “Island of Other” reveals a commitment to creating a noticeablepresence for diversity at ASEE and the possibility for multiple subaltern identities coexisting inone location, both an acknowledgement that bodies might express more than one identity and anopportunity for organizing and building solidarity. At the same time it necessarily cordons offspace for the Other. What is the nature of this space, and what does it mean for some body tocross its boundaries, in either direction, as an ally or as a member of one or more of the identifiedgroups? What does it mean that in 2012 there was no expressed space for disabled engineers onthis Island, or elsewhere at ASEE?Using Queer theory and Disability theory, I seek to uncover the meaning of bodily experience onand off the Island of Other and in STEM more broadly. By exploring what identities and whatbodies are rendered visible, and under what conditions, we begin to see why identities matter,and why bodies matter, in engineering and in engineering education.This exploration of bodily experience will include an interrogation of engineering’sheteronormativity: How are engineering and “nerd” masculinities constructed as heteronormative?In what ways is the body denied, contorted, and taken apart to fit these ideals throughengineering epistemology and practice? How is the struggle for LGBT inclusion and equality inengineering constrained by these norms, and how can Queer bodies work to disrupt this ordering?Do Disabled bodies disrupt in a different way?What lessons from this analysis can be brought to bear on the Island of Other to conceive of newmeanings of access for Queer bodies and Disabled bodies and other incarnations of diversity inengineering? What role can engineering play, and how does engineering need to change, to takea positive role in access, inclusion, and justice?

Riley, D. M. (2013, June), The Island of Other: Making space for embodiment of difference in engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22606

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