Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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A Foucauldian Discourse Analysis of an Engineering Programme

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Version 2 2023-09-25, 02:08
Version 1 2021-12-07, 13:53
posted on 2023-09-25, 02:08 authored by Craig WattersonCraig Watterson

The extensive literature relating to student barriers within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields and, in particular, engineering education illustrates that STEM education has a widespread problem in retaining students. A plethora of studies have concentrated on placing the student at the centre of the problem – for example by focusing on student academic ability, work habits and social background. By analysing staff interviews, and investigating pertinent factors from the surrounding institutional, cultural and social environment, I shift the focus away from the phenomenological experience of individuals to examine the way power relations affect the teaching and learning environment. Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) offers a theoretical and methodological basis for critically exploring networks of power, through the investigation of discourse and can provide insights into the complex situation in the School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS).  I use FDA to ask: how is power experienced and manifested by lecturers in the Bachelor of Engineering with Honours (BE) first-year teaching and learning environment at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), New Zealand. I do this by analysing transcripts of interviews with teaching staff, as well as ECS, University, and Government documentation. By adopting an FDA approach to lecturers’ experiences of power, situated in the New Zealand neoliberal educational context, I aim to identify issues that impact the teaching and learning environment. These include academic practices relating to Government and University pressure to increase engineering student recruitment and retention numbers, an academically diverse incoming student cohort, course design, teaching and research. From a Foucauldian perspective, the New Zealand Government, the University, its lecturers, and students are all part of an educational setting comprising a complex network of power relationships active in the operation of the teaching and learning environment.  By placing lecturers at the epicentre of the situation and by understanding how lecturers both experience and exercise power in the teaching-learning environment, the issue of student retention may be re-framed. This study offers a unique perspective from which we can assess these problematic experiences at the source, whether that be at government, institution, department, teacher or learner level. As such, by exploring the operation of power, this thesis explores an important aspect of the retention problem which has never been fully investigated in NZ engineering education.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-SA 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

School of Psychology

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Engineering and Computer Science


Carnegie, Dale; Wilson, Marc; Knewstubb, Bernadette