The precise study of engineers’ social trajectories can shed light on the internal dynamics of contemporary Indian society, specifically on the fundamental issues of social change and social mobility within it.
This analysis will provide information, within the context of British India, of the social transformations resulting from the interaction of the following three dynamics: colonial domination, internal hierarchies within the local society, and the institutionalisation of an engineering profession. Following Independence, the rise of the planning state, whose theory of development was based on the mastery of technology, and of its positive discrimination policies (particularly within the sector of higher education) seem to have significantly contributed to the restructuring of the profession. Another factor in this was the agency of marginalised groups who were able to seize the opportunities provided by engineering education in order to run « constructive community schemes ».
We will therefore aim to analyse whether the numerical growth of this profession, from as early as the second half of the 19th century, enabled new groups to benefit from some improvement in their social position, or whether it only contributed to strengthening the position of already dominant categories of the populations (particularly literate castes like that of the Brahmans). Several preliminary studies undertaken within the framework of the PEPS, such as on the recruitment process of Bombay’s Public Work Department between 1870 and 1930, demonstrated the importance of other populations (Christians from Goa, Amil from Sind, etc.). Those studies therefore invite us to conduct a study in depth on the social and historical contexts enabling access to that profession.
We will therefore document the social and community origins, as well as the social and professional trajectories of each individual, for each group that we study. If the information is available, we will also include the professional genealogy of those individuals. More particularly we will measure whether the rise of an independent India led to evolutions within the structuring and reproduction of the group of engineers employed by public authorities as well as different industry and service sectors. Did the voluntary policies regarding technical education carried out by the new independent State enable certain marginalised segments of society, particularly women and Dalits (previously known as untouchables), to gain access to this type of education (Naudet, 2012)? If so, under which terms and in which proportions? What were the consequences of Partition on the representation of the Muslim community within this labour force: did the technical elite follow the political elite in Pakistan as did the economic elite? What are the effects of recent policies regarding the status of religious minorities, such as the one carried out in the region of Bangalore by the state of Karnataka? What are the work experiences of those marginalised and often stigmatised populations? It will also be necessary to reflect on the representation of social prestige linked to this function. The way engineers define themselves and are referred to, particularly when compared with similar or even competing professions, will contribute to refine our knowledge of stratifications in Indian society.
Naudet, J. 2012. Entrer dans l’élite : Parcours de réussite en France, aux États-Unis et en Inde. Paris: PUF.