PhD project: Practicing and Changing engineering design

Rikke Premer Petersen

The aim of this PhD project is to contribute to a more situated and socially informed understanding of the perceived gap between engineering education and engineering occupation in light of contemporary and future challenges for the engineering design profession.

The spheres of education and occupation represent conceptual understandings of learning and working in our western societies, but also historically rooted infrastructures that hold our institutions in place. Based on an ethnographically informed study of engineering design within both spheres, the project pursues a practice theoretical perspective to open up these understandings and infrastructures in order to find out how we might understand the seemingly persistent difficulties of resonating professional engineering design practices in our academically informed educational system.

The project uses thick descriptions of the empirical material to first of all provide an understanding of how engineering design work is practiced. By framing engineering design practices as essentially epistemic practices (wrought with ambiguities) the analysis is sensitive to the heterogeneity and sociality that lies beyond topics usually discussed by engineering educators and employers (such as specialised and codified knowledge and core competences).

Then, shifting attention to the ideas of changing and developing engineering design practice, the project offers an analysis of the infrastructures that uphold and stabilise education and occupation alike. The empirical material illustrates how changing existing practices requires more than initiative and local doings because the underlying infrastructures are tough and reaches across many interconnected bundles of practices.


The PhD project thus contributes with novel practice theoretical understanding of practicing and changing engineering design in Denmark.