Dissertation Abstracts

The Transformation of the Engineering Profession in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan

Author: Sayfutdinova, Leyla , leylasayf@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: Middle East Technical University, Turkey
Supervisor: Associate Professor Dr. Ayça Ergun
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: engineering , professions , post-socialism , Azerbaijan
Areas of Research: Professional Groups , Work , Social Transformations and Sociology of Development


This thesis explores the impact of socio-economic transformation on the engineering profession in post-Soviet Azerbaijan and engineers' responses to these changes. Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, has been an important industrial center since the late nineteenth century thanks to the development of the oil industry. In Soviet times, Azerbaijan's industry was further expanded and diversified to include machine building, energy production, and chemical industries. Many manufacturing plants and research institutions were opened. Like elsewhere in Soviet Union, technical specialists, trained at four newly established technical higher educational institutions (vtuz) became the core of the educated class. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union, disruption of economic links with Russia and other former Soviet republics, and the post-Soviet economic restructuring, all had a profound impact on both the industry and the professional group of engineers. Deprofessionalization of a large number of engineers, especially from the manufacturing sector, and re-stratification of the profession as a whole based on sector (oil industry vs manufacturing), age, gender, and different exposure to globalization are the two main outcomes of this transformation.

I argue that these outcomes can be explained by the process of jurisdictional shift. Professional jurisdiction, or a profession's control over a specific work area, is constituted through a complex process of competition, regulation, and settlement among professionals, state agencies, and the public. Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with 42 engineers of various specializations conducted between 2010-2013, I map structural factors and engineers' agency in achieving the current jurisdictional arrangement. While individual engineers were able to make gains in income and status, the profession as a whole is dealing with a shrinking work area, both in terms of industrial sectors and in terms of the variety of available professional tasks. Thus, research and design have drastically been reduced, and most engineers are engaged in application and installation of technologies developed outside of the country. I explore the implications of this jurisdictional change at three different levels. In terms of subjective experience of work, marketization led to the prioritization of income orientation and the decline in intrinsic and solidaristic orientations; however, this did not necessarily lead to greater work satisfaction even among those who have been successful in the transition. In the sphere of state-profession relations, partial withdrawal of the state led not to the rise of collective autonomy of engineering profession, but to individualization. Collective action, such as resistance to deprofessionalization, when it takes place, is limited to informal practices within rather small collegiate networks based on personal trust. However, the processes of individualization and re-stratification of engineering profession cannot be attributed only to the post-Soviet transition and economic restructuring that it engendered. They are also embedded in global division of engineering work, where the professional jurisdiction of Azerbaijani engineers is being reterritorialized from relatively closed Soviet space to a more open global one, and where this professional group is being circumscribed by more powerful international actors.