Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society,
Volume 2, Number 4, 1999
Becoming a Technologist: Days in a Girl's Life
By Linda Stepulevage (University of East London)
Studies of the gender relations of information and communications technologies (ICTs) seldom deal with these relations as experienced in early childhood, except as located in schooling. The construction of identity in relation to technology is negotiated from an early age. In this article a technological strand is identified in childhood using 'experience stories', writing about specific situations or events on a specific theme, with the focus of analysis being on the theme, rather than on the individual. In reflecting on this technological strand of childhood the article tries to make sense of how everyday experiences serve as sites for constituting our relations with ICTs, and more personally, how they constitute relations for a young white working-class girl. This article also hopes to make visible technological acts which are essentialized and/or made invisible in later years. This article draws on a multi-layer definition of technology and uses conceptions of locally situated knowledge and practices to explore how a young girl might develop a familiarity with technology as part of everyday living. Class and race relations as well as gender relations are significant in early conceptions of 'knowing and doing' and later awareness of constructions of technology and technological identities and subjectivities. This article therefore attempts to identify these relations within the experience stories. By applying a concept of technology that encompasses the knowledge, skills and practices in the everyday life of a young girl, the author hopes to contribute to a richer understanding of the gender, class and race relations implicit in what is recognized as technological knowledge and to contribute to a more inclusive understanding of the social relations of ICTs.
Cyborgs or Goddesses? Becoming Divine in a Cyberfeminist Age
By Elaine Graham (University of Manchester, UK)
New digital and biogenetic technologies - in the shape of media such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, genetic modification and technological prosthetics - signal a 'posthuman' future in which the boundaries between humanity, technology and nature have become ever more malleable. We are more aware than ever that what we call 'nature' is open to manipulation by varieties of biotechnology such as gene therapy. Computer-assisted technologies transform perceptions of body, time and space. Dreams of merging humans and machines into new intelligent cybernetic organisms leave the realm of science fiction and enter everyday reality. As the taken-for-grantedness of what it means to be human shifts and blurs, we might consider how myth, literature and popular culture have furnished the Western imagination with a gallery of fantastic and monstrous creatures on the margins of human and non-human. One contemporary example is that of the cyborg, who serves as a metaphor of the various ways in which the contemporary west is currently experiencing the hybridization of human nature. One version of the cyborg popular with cultural theorists - especially feminists - has been the vision articulated in Haraway's 'Manifesto for Cyborgs'. Termed here as Haraway's 'cyborg writing', it expresses important values about gender, politics and technology; but whilst the cyborg subverts many of the dualisms of western culture, Haraway's comment that she would 'rather be a cyborg than a goddess' inadvertently reinforces one final, often unspoken dichotomy of modernity: that between religion and the secular. Therefore the implications for feminist theory and praxis of a recovery of the goddess are explored. To concur with Haraway, such a project is prone to an inversion of traditional gender stererotypes, enclosing women in a realm of unreconstructed 'nature' at the expense of empowering them to engage with new technologies. Other models of 'becoming divine', however, promise more radical reconfigurations of the religious symbolic of western modernity, a symbolic that has sanctioned the equation of technology with the disavowal of embodied finitude in the name of a quest for transcendence. Irigaray's concept of the 'sensible transcendental' refuses the simplistic distinctions between sacred/secular, spiritual/material, divine/human. Far from representing a female version of the patriarchal sky-god, or even a bucolic, romanticized 'mother-goddess', therefore, Irigaray's model of 'becoming divine' offers an exciting addition to the critical and reconstructive resources of cyberfeminism.
A Camera with a View: JenniCAM, Visual Representation, and Cyborg Subjectivity
By Krissi M. Jimroglou (Handsnet, USA)
Hailed as the originator of the digital camera 'homecam' phenomenon, Jennifer Ringley has garnered national media attention for her website, JenniCAM (Ringley 1998c), which offers viewers a constant window into the bedroom of a young woman through internet technology. Using the JenniCAM website as my primary text, I examine how Jenni integrates flesh and machine in the formation and display of a cyborg subjectivity, a hybridized identity (re)presented through the new technology of the digital camera. Towards that end I use feminist film theory to demonstrate how the construction and display of the female body - via the medium of digital camera - transforms our readings of gendered bodies as sites of knowledge production and pleasure. I assert that JenniCAM, a cyborg subject created through the integration of the electronic image and the internet, exposes more than just flesh. JenniCAM reveals cultural tensions surrounding epistemological conceptions of vision, gender, and identity and raises questions for future conversations regarding the role of technology in the representation and construction of gendered subjects.
Strange Yet Stylish Headgear: VR Consumption and the Construction of Gender
By Nicola Green (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)
This article examines how gender is inscribed and reproduced in the consumption of Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. The focus is on how virtual reality systems become embedded in 'everyday life' through leisure and consumption, and how the spectacles and disciplines associated with consumption sites produce gendered virtual subjects. Studies of new communications technologies have tended to polarize between 'cyberpunk'/ 'cyberfeminist' visions of bodily transcendence in 'cyberspaces', and the critique of such visions from social theorists who focus on the reproduction of social and cultural inequalities through technical systems. These approaches tend to neglect the specific sites in which the social relations of VR are played out.
Gender in the Design of the Digital City of Amsterdam
By Els Rommes, Ellen Van Oost and Nelly Oudshoorn (University of Twente, The Netherlands)
This article analyses the social shaping of the Digital City of Amsterdam (DDS) from a gender perspective. It aims to contribute to an understanding of the overwhelming dominance (more than 90 per cent) of male DDS users, a fact which is more than surprising given that the designers had high ideals about making the internet accessible to a wider public. The analysis is rooted in the social constructivist tradition in technology studies. As such, it analyses technology as a product of social, political, and cultural negotiations among designers, policymakers and other social groups. The concept of 'genderscript' is used to examine the gender relations embedded in the design of DDS. In our analysis we show that the design process was gendered at three levels: the structural, symbolical and identity level. As the design-process was highly informal and no conscious attempt was made to focus on specific user-groups, the designers unconsciously projected their own, masculine biased interests on the future user. Thus they affected the choices concerning the goals, content and interface of DDS, providing it with a masculine genderscript.
Visual Pleasure in Textual Places: Gazing in Multi-user Object-orientated Worlds
By Michele White (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA)
This article relates the textual processes of looking and gazing on MOOs (multi-user object oriented worlds) to feminist theories of the gaze. The gaze and look are privileged terms in these chat oriented settings because of the programming decision to associate information inquiries with the typed command to 'look [character or object name]'. The use of the look command makes it seem that physiognomy oriented character descriptions and architecturally familiar room types can be seen. Many users want to believe that character descriptions offer a view that is like the 'real' body of the user. The constructed nature of the character, literally produced by text, is partially concealed by the insistence that the metaphorical sight of the look is the equivalent of truth. A series of other commands, such as @watch, @peruse, @kgb, @fbi, @scope, glance, @peep, @gawk, and see, also emphasize sight so that the textual setting is made over into a visual space. The names of these commands, and the detailed sets of information that they supply, make users aware of the transparent structure of the MOO and its surveillant aspects. The virtual look of certain characters, penetrating into any 'space' in order to examine other characters and determine their gender, renders an empowered gaze. The mastering gaze of characters and the voyeuristic terminology of MOO commands perpetuate a series of limiting identity constructs. This article establishes some preliminary ways to interrogate these identity processes and advocates further critical considerations of the ways that bodies, spaces, and objects are constructed on-line.
The Social Geography of Gender-switching in Virtual Environments on the Internet
By Lynne D. Roberts (Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia), Malcolm R. Parks (University of Washington, USA)
The virtual social worlds of the internet give people unparalleled control over the construction and presentation of their identities. Gender-switching is perhaps the most dramatic example of how people exercise this control. It occurs when people present a gender that is different from their biological sex. While gender-switching figures prominently in academic commentaries and popular writings about on-line social life, there is little systematic research on the phenomenon. On-line surveys of two stratified random samples (N's = 233 and 202) of MOO users were conducted. The majority of participants (60 per cent) in social MOOs (popular text-based internet social venues) had never engaged in gender-switching, while the majority in role-playing MOOs were either gender-switching currently (40 per cent) or had done so in the past (16.7 per cent). More than half of those who currently gender-switched did so for less than 10 per cent of their time on-line. In spite of the freedom to use indeterminate or even plural gender identities, most participants who switched genders (78.7 per cent) did so within traditional binary conventions (male to female, female to male). The primary reason for gender-switching was the desire to play roles of people different from one's self. The primary barrier to gender-switching was the belief that it is dishonest and manipulative. Attitudes toward gender-switching and on-line participation were better predictors of gender-switching than personal background demographics or personality measures. The images of gender-switching that emerge from this first systematic study of the phenomenon are considerably more benign than that usually portrayed in the literature. Gender-switching appears to be practised by a minority of MOO users for a small percentage of their time on-line. Gender-switching within MOOs of all kinds might best be understood as an experimental behaviour rather than as an enduring expression of sexuality, personality, or gender politics.
Women and the Internet: The Natural History of a Research Project
By Anne Scott (Department of Applied Social Sciences, University of Bradford), Lesley Semmens and Lynette Willoughby (School of Computing, Leeds Metropolitan University)
This article represents a narrative, 'women and the internet', as a women and technology origin story with a fixed beginning, a contested centre, and an open ending. This article analyses our engagement with this narrative as a pilot study was conducted to look at women's perceptions of, and relationships to, the internet. Although this story felt like a coherent and persuasive narrative, this was questioned as the outcomes of the pilot study were reflected upon. Women coming to the 'net' led to a reconstruction of the questions that need to be addressed in researching gender and information technology. This article begins by describing and deconstructing the motivating story which was brought to this research project. Three genres are introduced 'the webbed utopia', 'flamed out' and 'locked into locality' - which are seen as forming the contested centre of this narrative. While each genre has its own narrative logic, all of them draw on a common tale of historical origins. From each of these perspectives 'women and the internet' has an ending which is still open, but is rapidly closing. Three questions are then identified which have been raised by analysis: what do we mean by 'access'?; what do we mean by 'the internet'? and 'which women'? The seeming simplicity of these questions disguises serious difficulties which research in this area must address.
Understanding Computer Game Cultures: A Situated Approach
By Simeon J. Yates and Karen Littleton (Open University, UK)
This article uses data and theory from psychological and sociological sources in order to examine computer gamers engagement with computer games. The article employs data from studies of gender difference in computer game interactions in order to theoretically open up the rich diversity of gamers interactions with games. The theoretical discussion employs a mix of psychological ideas, especially those of affordances, effectivities and attunement, with ideas from cultural studies, especially those of subject positions and preferred readings. The article argues that gaming needs to be viewed as an activity taking place in cultural niches that arise in the complex interaction between games, gamers and gaming cultures.
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