T6-AD1-1 - “I don’t want to be influenced by emotions”—Engineering students’ emotional positioning in discussions about wicked sustainability problems

3. Research Work In Progress
Johanna Lönngren1 , Tom Adawi2, Maria Berge1
1 Umeå University
2 Chalmers University of Technology

This Work-in-Progress research paper describes the results from a pilot study that aims to explore the role of emotions in engineering students’ discussions about a wicked sustainability problem, i.e. a problem that is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty and ambiguity and for which it is not possible to develop a perfect solution. There is strong evidence from educational research that emotions are important for learning at all levels of education and particularly in education related to sustainability and wicked problems. At the same time, dominant discourses and stereotypes in engineering and engineering education construct engineering as purely rational and unemotional. In this study, we explore how engineering students re-construct—but also challenge—this dominant discourse in interviews about a wicked problem. We use discourse analytic tools from positioning theory to analyze how the students construct and negotiate emotional subject positions for themselves and others. The results provide illustrative examples of how emotional positioning can strengthen and/or challenge the dominant discourse: examples from the dominant discourse illustrate how students position emotions as irrelevant or even detrimental for engineering work, while examples from the counter-discourse illustrate how students sometimes construct emotions as part of what it means to be an engineer and as important for engineering work.

Key words: emotions, engineering education, wicked problems, sustainability, positioning theory