Reengineering Engineering: A Glimpse of Late Professionalism


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Virginia Tech


The role of the engineer in the late capitalist society of the last half century has been misunderstood at best. The lack of a consistent job description for engineers in various fields, a lack of job security, and a lack of respect from both industry and society have spawned severe angst in the engineering community. A classic remedy for this situation has been the rallying of engineering practitioners under a banner of increased professionalism. If engineers could make themselves more like doctors and lawyers — the respected members of professional society — they would gain similar respect and job satisfaction.

This project analyzes current state of engineering practice as revealed in the self-image of the individual engineer. A survey of popular engineering literature is employed in order to develop a composite self-image of the engineer: the technical hired hand of industry. "Professionalization" is then demonstrated to be useless in the improvement of this situation and furthermore, undesirable in the late capitalist social and economic climate of the late twentieth century.

Late professionalism—an alternative to a understanding of professionalism—is offered as a means by which to improve the job satisfaction of engineers in contemporary society. Suggesting that each engineer is free to negotiate the terms, conditions, and length of his/her own employment based on a personal understanding of the job requirements, late professionalism empowers the engineer to adopt a comfortable position in the late capitalist economy. A new metaphor—the commissioned engineer—is employed in support of the late professional understanding of the engineer's occupation.



late capitalism, metaphor, occupation, Professionalism