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Title: The Amazon Effect: A Case Study of Corporate Influence on Student Macro-Ethical Reasoning
As the field of engineering faces looming societal issues, it becomes particularly important to foster more “holistic engineers” with systems-thinking skills and an understanding of the macro-ethical impacts of their work (Canny and Bielefeldt, 2015) Macro-ethics here refers to the collective social responsibility of engineers as a profession, as opposed to micro-ethics, which concern activities within the profession (Herkert, 2005). However, college students studying engineering in the United States exhibit a decline in concern for public welfare over the course of their education (Cech, 2014) as well as a tendency to orient to micro-ethical issues over macro-ethical issues (Schiff et al, 2020). Scholars attribute these trends to ideologies pervasive in engineering spaces, such as depoliticization of engineering practice, technocracy, and meritocracy (Cech, 2014; Slaton, 2015). While Cech (2014) argues these status quo ideologies in engineering are maintained by a “culture of disengagement” that decreases interest in public welfare, Radoff et al. (2022) find indications that additional factors contribute to engaged students’ reproduction of such ideologies. They find, for example, instances of students in reproducing dehumanizing narratives regarding low-income communities, despite their enrollment in a voluntary program premised on cultivating socially responsible STEM professionals. This finding suggests that even students who remain “engaged” to some degree can reproduce status quo ideologies which Cech (2014) attributes to disengagement. One explanation as to why a macro-ethically “engaged” student may fail to attend to the social aspects of design follows a deficit narrative: a lack of knowledge or ability. We see this assumption in comparisons of students’ and experts’ design processes, where the areas in which students behave differently than experts are interpreted as areas that require additional instruction on how to behave more like the experts (Atman et al., 2008). This presupposition of students’ lacking knowledge or skills, however, backgrounds contextual or interactional factors. Philip et al. (2018) challenges such assumptions in their analysis of a classroom discussion on the ethics of drone warfare, which exemplifies students’ convergence to American nationalism, but with the framing that this convergence is interactionally created, rather than the result of individual students’ stable, dogmatic beliefs. However, because their analysis is limited to the scope of a single class discussion, the extent to which students’ performance is situated in said class remains unclear. In this paper, we attempt to understand the ways in which students reproduce ideologies dominant in engineering, as well as the situated nature of students’ ideological orientations in collaborative work. We consider a case study focus group from Radoff et al. (2022) where students reasoned through a hypothetical design scenario about a grocery store. We show how, despite many opportunities where problematic status-quo narratives are momentarily challenged, the students generally reject the challenges, not by arguing against them, but by positioning them outside the scope of their work. Further, we show how these moments of rejection are tightly coupled with attempts to emulate the multinational technology company Amazon. Finally, we use additional data to illustrate the situatedness of one student’s performance, and theorize the influence of Amazon as a “strange attractor” in this student’s situated reasoning.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1916929
NSF-PAR ID:
10451342
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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