Engineering Masculinities in Water Governance

Engineers historically dominate the water profession. Partly because of this, the profession is notably masculine, both in terms of the numerical dominance of men as in the definition and delimitation of normal professionalism and expertise. Because of the historical and contemporary importance of water engineers in projects of state formation and nation building, water professionalism is also an important site for the production of broader societal ideals of manhood and male heroism.

This thematic issue of Engineering Studies proposes to improve feminist understandings of the associations between gender and professional performance in the water sector. It does so, by focusing on engineering masculinities in water management and exploring how these influence the contents of expert knowledge and the impacts of their technical and non-technical interventions. For water studies, and environmental studies more in general, the strong association of men with organizational power, authority, technology, engineering and expertise results in a paradox of (in-)visibility although the physical presence of men is important for the prestige of the profession, and though individuals need to continuously display a specific version of manhood to belong to the professional community, the meanings and implications of masculinity tend to remain invisible and unexplored. This makes it difficult for women and ‘other men’ to become recognized and respected as water professionals, and thus poses an important barrier to the diversity of water institutions. It is also one of the ways in which powers of water governance and technocratic authority present themselves as self-evident, neutral and based on universally valid knowledge. Interrogating the masculinity of water professionalism thus provides an important entry-point for explaining the oft-noted resilience of public water bureaucracies to change.

Read the free introduction and the other articles at Engineering Studies