2012 ASEE Annual Conference, San Antonio, Texas.

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Recent movements showcase engineering design activities on behalf of poor people, inspiring engineering educators to create global service-learning programs. People who encourage engineers to “design for the other 90%” envision globally engaged businesses paving a new way forward for poverty eradication while other engineers pursue forms of “appropriate technology”to create socially-just technological systems. The engineering practices related to these phrases raise questions of which people benefit from engineering design for poverty alleviation, how engineers define “poor” people, what indicates “success” when engineers design for poverty alleviation, and how engineering educators create meaningful global service-learning programs for students.This paper uses mediated discourse analysis to place engineering design for poverty alleviation in context. Mediated discourse analysis allows researchers to connect a rhetorical framework used in problem definition to the real-world prototyping activities of engineers. Therefore, this methodology permits rigorous assessment of implemented engineering designs. The researcher selected two high-profile technical non-governmental organizations providing similar technical tools to developing communities for a comparative case study. Each organization has strong rhetorical allegiance to either “Design for the Other 90%” or “Appropriate Technology.” The researcher analyzed project implementation reports to uncover relationships between the designed tools and targeted users.Results from this research show that the two organizations do pursue similar projects but target vastly different users. Globally engaged business projects can target poor people living at or just below the income poverty line who have certain key assets such as land, literacy, and previous experience. Conversely, sustained concern for social justice enables an organization to reach chronically poor, vulnerable, or otherwise insecure households. Further, this research shows considerable animosity between the different organizational approaches. Greater awareness of international development theoretical frameworks of poverty, vulnerability, and participation could bridge the gap between approaches and support efforts of engineering educators to design meaningful global service-learning programs.


2014, ASEE

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