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Which 'culture'? A critical analysis of intercultural communication in engineering education

Handford, Michael, Van Maele, Jan, Matous, Petr and Maemura, Yu 2019. Which 'culture'? A critical analysis of intercultural communication in engineering education. Journal of Engineering Education 108 (2) , pp. 161-177. 10.1002/jee.20254

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Abstract

Background It is increasingly acknowledged that technical expertise is not sufficient for engineers today, given the complex intercultural global contexts in which they are required to work. This article, therefore, examines how the concept of culture is typically operationalized in engineering education and discusses possible reasons for this approach. Purpose/Hypothesis The specific research question explored here is “How is culture conceptualized in engineering education?” Design/Method To examine this previously unasked question, a mixed‐methods methodology was developed, one that uses both quantitative and qualitative tools. More specifically, a corpus‐assisted discourse analysis of relevant engineering education articles published in leading academic journals between 2000 and 2015 was combined with a close reading of each and a critical discussion of two representative articles. Results Our findings reveal that, first, intercultural communication has not received the attention it deserves, given the multidisciplinary, diverse, global nature of the engineering profession. Furthermore, when intercultural concerns are discussed, the predominant approach is essentialist, meaning that culture is regarded as given (rather than constructed), framed in terms of differences between nations and potentially offering a causal explanation for individual behavior. This approach has been criticized for reinforcing stereotypical thinking and offering simplistic answers to complex problems. Conclusions We conclude by exploring reasons for the relatively wide‐spread acceptance of the “culture‐as‐given” approach in engineering education, then by urging educators to adopt a “small culture” approach for constructing culture in engineering, and finally by suggesting alternative ways for developing intercultural communicative competence.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1069-4730
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 18 March 2019
Date of Acceptance: 10 September 2018
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2020 12:30
URI: http://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/120844

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