Engineering in Global Perspective

Dr. Ron Eglash
Comparative Studies

Contact: email --, dept office phone -- 292-2559, web address--

Course Description: This course examines the social context of engineering in cross-cultural perspective. Starting with an introduction to the culture concept, we will examine studies of engineering practices from Japan, Latin America, the former Soviet Union, Scandinavian Nations, and west Africa, as well as ethnographic and historical studies of U.S. engineering. We will learn how engineering management, education, professional ethics, product design, and a wide range of other social and technical aspects are affected by the cultural traditions in which they take place. The emphasis of this course is on developing a partnership approach between engineering and culture; e.g. the use of the Japanese ethic of harmony in their design teams, the use of indigenous knowledge systems in African modernization programs, participatory design in Sweden, etc. We will also look at how disciplines such as human factors engineering are able take cultural variation into account to improve the fit between people and technology, and how new information technologies are aiding socially-informed engineering in the emerging global village.

Requirements: Evaluation will be based on the midterm exam (45%), the final exam (45%), and class participation (10%). It is important to bring the reading to class so that we can discuss the texts in detail.

Texts: Available from SBX bookstore (some copies in University bookstore as well).

Bucciarelli, Louis. Designing Engineers. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994.

Graham, Loren R. The Ghost of the executed engineer : technology and the fall of the Soviet Union. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1993.

*Reader (Grade A Notes).

Course Schedule:


March 31 -- Lecture: introduction to cultural studies of technology

April 2 -- *David Hess, intro to "Science and Technology in a Multicultural World"
Video: Science and Mathematics through the Eyes of Culture"

United States

April 7 -- Bucciarelli ch 1 & 2

April 9 -- Bucciarelli ch 3 & 4

April 14 -- Bucciarelli ch 5 & 7

April 16 -- *David Nobel, "Social choice in machine design." *Fouché, "Invention as a Tool of African-American Social and Technical Development" (abstract). Japan

April 21 -- *Honda (ed) Working in Japan: an insider's guide for engineers ch 5-6. *Hayashi, The Japanese Experience in Technology, ch 3.

April 23 -- *Honda (ed). ch 10-11. *Bhasavanich, "An American in Tokoyo."

Latin America

April 28 -- *Swezey and Faber: "Disarticulated Accumulation, Agroexport, and the Ecological Crisis in Nicaragua." *Stephens, "Doing business in Mexico: understanding cultural differences."

April 30 -- *Toledo, "Patczucaro's lesson." *Gliessman, "The ecology and management of traditional farming systems."

May 5 -- Midterm exam

Soviet Union

May 7 --Graham ch 1 & 2

May 12 -- Graham ch 4,5,epilog

West Africa

May 14 -- *Eglash, "African Fractals" ch 1,2

May 19 -- *Eglash, "African Fractals ch 6, 7, 10

May 21 --*Eglash, "African Fractals ch 10, 14.

Scandinavian Nations

May 26 -- *Ehn, "Scandinavian Design: on participation and skill." *Bodker et al, "Cooperative design."

May 28 -- *Cole, "The Marcopolitics of organizational change."


June 2 -- *Goonatilake, "Aborted discovery: science and creativity in the third world."

June 4 -- *Zorpette, "technology in India."