With its grounding in the natural sciences and mathematics, engineering design is often promoted as a neutral practice of solving problems in the public interest. Nevertheless, engineering design as we know it emerged and developed alongside – and has long helped reproduce – relations of capitalism and empire, with all their attending forms of social domination and environmental destruction. Given this history, what then might be the role of engineering in contemporary movements for social and environmental justice? How might engineering be reconfigured to further the cause of liberation – rather than deepen relations of domination? 

Bridging work across design theory, architecture, engineering, and science and technology studies, the talk examines the possibilities of counter-engineering: the reconfiguration of engineering expertise and tools to challenge hegemonic power structures and strengthen movements for justice and equity. Using examples from ongoing collaborative research into the history, politics, and radical re-imaginings of Mexico City’s vast and deeply unequal urban flood control system, the talk will focus in particular on the difficulties of contesting – and redesigning – the large-scale and ubiquitous engineered infrastructures that shape contemporary life.

Dean Chahim is a cultural anthropologist and environmental engineer whose work examines how urban environmental injustice is produced and contested through engineering practice. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso and will be an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at New York University beginning in September. He was previously a Princeton-Mellon Fellow in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities.

Who can attend?

Open to the public, the campus community, graduate students, undergraduates, postdocs, research scholars, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Light refreshments will be provided.