Gendered Habitus in Engineering: Experiences of Brazilian Students

Bonaldi, Eduardo and Silva, Elizabeth (2014). Gendered Habitus in Engineering: Experiences of Brazilian Students. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 6(1) pp. 144–164.



This paper discusses the ways in which an ‘engineering habitus’, that in the first instance presents itself as a predominantly masculinized habitus - because its inclinations, competences and dispositions are homologous to the cultural repertoire traditionally associated with men – may change with the growing presence of women in the field. We draw from the perspective advanced by Bourdieu, in particular the key notions of habitus, capital and field, to explore how particular competences, dispositions and classificatory principles operate in the field of engineering. The study is based on qualitative in-depth analysis of the socialization trajectories of 10 students (five men and five women) enrolled in an engineering degree in a publicly-funded Brazilian university, as well as on quantitative secondary data about the students. This is placed in broader national and international contexts. The socialization trajectories of both women and men studying engineering demonstrate that the experiences of women are patterned by a double bind in cultural repertoires, which affect traditional associations with gender. An engineering gendered habitus not conforming to the stereotypical and dominant masculine is in evidence, as women not only develop competences and dispositions homologous to the traditional masculine habitus, but also show inclinations and affinities commonly associated with femininity. The study advances the hypothesis that the growing participation of women in engineering drives this process, challenging traditional gender divisions and propelling a more flexible gendered engineering habitus in the field. We propose that the phenomenon discussed here deserves further investigation.

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