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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Cultural Anthropology in Development Engineering

Kelsey Edwardsen

Cultural Anthropology in Development Engineering

Large scale infrastructure projects in the developing world are often criticized for not incorporating ethnographic, cultural, and social factors into the design and implementation phases. This paper explores the possibility of broadening the skill set of engineers and project managers to include the tools and methods that cultural anthropologists use in field work. Interviews were conducted with project managers and senior design engineers who have experience on projects in the developing world in order to discover whether anthropological skills were acquired through practice and without formal training. In addition, the interviews sought to extrapolate information regarding the thoughts of respondents on the value of anthropological and social impact research, followed by discussion about disciplinary breadth of engineers and project managers.

The analysis of interview responses affirmed the hypothesis that engineers and project managers should have a greater understanding of the tools and methods that are used by anthropologists and social scientists in field enquiry for infrastructure projects. It is recommended that training programs be designed to provide theoretical and casebased instruction in cultural anthropology to engineers who will be placed on projects in developing countries. The concept on which this proposal is based is termed transdisciplinary, whereby practitioners have knowledge of other disciplines, rather than multidisciplinary teams that require mediation and translated flow of information.

Future work includes the development of training programs for engineers and project managers that will be oriented towards university lectures or company seminars.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.