Conference Engineering: Questionning a profession

Engineer or Engineers: Expansion or Fragmentation?

International conference : Un Ingénieur, des ingénieurs. Expansion ou fragmentation? Paris, October 6-7, 2011, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales with the collaboration of Ingénieurs sans frontières


Aalok Khandekar, Engineering subjectivities: Global Indianness and the making of Indian engineers

Given the increasing visibility of Indian engineers in the global high-tech workforce in recent years, this paper inquires into the various conditions that support their transnational mobilities. I argue that Indian technomigration is shaped through the complex articulations of many different factors – middle class imaginations of successful careers and affluent lifestyles, immigration laws, considerations of family, and discourses of a “Global Indian” cosmopolitanism – being some of the most salient ones.

In particular, I argue that Indian technomigrants become transnationally mobile by assuming cosmopolitan “Global Indian” subjectivities – an identity construct that allows them to position themselves as global citizens who are nonetheless Indian at their core. For Indian technomigrants, “Global Indianness” is configured as the space between the binary opposition of a materialist “West” (United States) and a spiritual “India,” and is actualized through everyday practices such as those of education, employment, hospitality, and consumption. As a discursive construct, global Indianness, then, enacts a double movement – it serves to redefine engineering and allied technical professions as being Indian, while simultaneously making Indians “global”.

Based on this empirical analysis, I make four conceptual interventions. First, I foreground ways in which professional and non-professional (“technical” and “non-technical”) aspects of engineering practice are inextricably intertwined, and how these are in turn situated in local and global historical, cultural and political-economic conditions. Indian engineers, for example, prominently foreground their frustrations with a corrupt state bureaucratic machinery as key rationales for migrating to the United States and elsewhere. Such frustrations in turn shape how these engineers come to conceive of their personal and professional responsibilities, thus linking local histories to the formation of professional identities. Second, then, I draw attention to ways in which Indian engineering is constituted transnationally – seeking education and employment overseas has historically figured as an important consideration for Indian engineers, and shapes their personal and professional imaginaries in significant ways. Third, I argue for continued attention to engineers as key cultural figures. In postcolonial contexts such as those of India, especially, engineers have historically signified the promise of middle class respectability and livelihoods. Understanding engineering subjectivities, then, becomes a particularly productive window into understanding key cultural logics, as well as emerging sociocultural shifts. Lastly, I argue for continued synergies between scholarship on Engineering Studies and the interdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). As Engineering Studies defines itself as an autonomous area of inquiry, I suggest that it can meaningfully revitalize a focus on subject-formation among technoscientific experts writ large within STS.

This paper draws on ethnographic research conducted among Indian technomigrants – Indian engineering students and early career professionals who have migrated to the United States for education and employment-related purposes. Data for this research was collected through

Roland Lardinois, The social space of engineering colleges in India: Between the state and the market

This preliminary presentation is part of an international research programme: The Making of Indian Engineers, supported by the Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi, which brings together Indian and European scholars.

According to the AICTE the number of engineering colleges in India has increased fourfold in the last ten years – from 780 colleges registered in the year 2000 to more than 3000 colleges in 2010. The number of BEngg or BTech degrees currently delivered is estimated at 350 000 per year.

However, this growth is quite unbalanced. Firstly, 60% of the seats are concentrated in the four southern states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) and Maharashtra. Secondly, 73% of the seats are concentrated in five disciplines of the Information Technology (IT) only: Electronics and Communications; Computer Science; Information Technology; Electronics and Electrical; Electronics and Telecommunications.

Furthermore, engineering education is de facto privatised as 92% of the colleges are private (including few private government aided colleges) and 8% public institutions. But among these public institutions stand the most prestigious engineering colleges the Indian Institutes of Technology and the National Institutes of Technology and other institutions of similar ranking.

This presentation raises a few issues. Can we consider engineering education as a scholarly market? Who are the stakeholders involved in this market? How is the competition between colleges organized? What are their catchment areas? What are the mechanisms of regulation and control of this market? What is the role of the judiciary in the field of higher professional education? How do the colleges orient their action in this market, and how can we differentiate between these colleges? How is the social diversity organized in order to benefit all the groups of the Indian society? What is the rationale behind the working of these colleges – both inside and outside the institution? These are some of the issues that we will discuss in order to frame a survey that we intend to conduct as part of the programme The Making of Indian Engineers.

Odile Henry also contributed a paper titled: De l’ordre des ingénieurs à l’ordre des ingénieurs-conseils, de la récurrence d’un idéal professionnel (1922-1954).