Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
PhilosophyPart of Humanities

Cancelled - UK Engineering: A profession more focused on its own status than on the public good Seminar

16:00 - 18:00
3 March 2020
Building 65 Room 2115

Event details

Based on historians’ account of the emergence of the medical profession in the 19th century, we can see three key stages in the making of the medical profession: (1) The medics developed a self-image, presenting themselves as public servants (in contrast to the self-image of an existing, conservative elite), (2) The medics then fought for recognition of their self-image, and (3) Medicine was established as a profession, with a high status, verging on heroic – and certainly a status as public servants.

UK Engineers are often pre-occupied with the status of the engineering profession, lamenting the fact that the profession does not have the status that the medical profession does (or that the engineering profession has in other countries). I argue that this is because the engineering profession appears to be trying to jump to stage (3), ignoring stages (1) and (2).

Discussing the making of the medical profession, Michael Brown emphasises that “what it demonstrates is that the formation of modern medicine was an intensely political process, one which struck at the heart of key contemporary issues such as social justice and good governance.” (Brown 2014, p. 207) In contrast, engineers often seem keen to remain apolitical. But this is a mistake: their conservatism and their appeals to free market ideology are far from apolitical. It is a political ideology that favours the status quo and opposes the policies and regulations that would transform the engineering profession into a stronger, fully mature, profession with the ability to serve the public interest, protecting people’s lives and protecting the environment. Instead, we appear to have a profession that resists reform and then complains that the profession lacks the high status enjoyed by medics, failing to recognise that the status of the medical profession was built on a foundation of a political ideology that was radical, reformist and progressive, challenging the status quo.

This paper discusses these issues particularly in relation to the Grenfell Tower fire and climate change.

Speaker information

Dr Rob Lawlor. University of Leeds

Privacy Settings