MIT Symposium on Gender + Technology – Session 1: LABOR

Events,Liveblog,Series February 23, 2014 2:11 pm

Saturday, February 22, 2014  |   MIT

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Organized by Renée Blackburn and Mitali Thakor, doctoral candidates in the MIT Program in History, Anthropology, + STS. 

Feminist theory in STS has critically engaged questions of scientific ideology, institutional power, difference, and epistemology –- attending not only to gender but also race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, postcoloniality, queer theory, and more…

9:15-10:45 AM – Session 1: LABOR 

“Who Was the User? Gender on the Personal Computing Frontier” Joy Rankin, Yale University

“Careful attention to how user defined themselves and were defined by others illuminates the gendered ways of personal computing.”

In this talk, Joy highlights the artifacts, networks, and individuals in academic timesharing during the 1960s that transformed computing from a business and military endeavor to a personal practice.  In this transformational era, Joy carefully considers the category of the user, employing gender as an analytical category.  Joy challenges the conventional history of computing as a field of eccentric nerds with a few pioneering women by  demonstrating how configuring the user in the classroom was an explicitly gendered process.

“Getting MADD: Mothers, Drunk Driving, and Changing Views of Driving Safety” Renée Blackburn, MIT

In this work-in-progress, Renee demonstrates how Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, actively changed the image of the drunk driver from a socially acceptable white-collar worker to an irresponsible outcast.  By transforming drunk driving into a criminal act, MADD shifted drinking from being an issue of public health to an issue of public safety, developing technologies to prevent drunk driving.  Renee furthermore traces the conflicts and controversies in the rhetoric of invoking “Mothers” against drunk driving since its inception in the 1980s.

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Discussant:  Miliann Kang, Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Moderator: Abha Sur, Lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies, MIT

Regarding Renee’s project, Miliann notes that there is a literature on maternal activism in the Latin American context.  In this case, the motivations for activism and mobilization are quite different, especially when thinking about the role of the state and how it’s targeted or not targeted. In the US, there is larger a context of anti-terrorist rhetoric in controlling immigrant groups, so when thinking about campaigns to prevent drunk driving, it is easy to prohibit these people from driving drunk, but will also prohibit their entrance into different social spaces.

Miliann notes that in the campaigns for MADD, the construction of the victim is not focused primarily on the person who was hit, but on the people who have social ties to that person.  The victim as a person, even if they do survive an accident, gradually becomes obscured.  So how can we design a campaign that can be more thoughtful about these issues?  Because of the unease in the making of the victim and the making of the criminal act, how can we create alternate forms of awareness?  And is there space for Donna Haraway in this conversation in thinking about the interplay between human and technology?

In considering  Joy’s talk, Miliann looks at Dartmouth as an institution where computing practices are explicitly being gendered, and wonders what would computing look like if women had been the primary users.  In this blur between the producer and consumer of programs, how would the programs looks different if they were designed by women?  And how would computing have been gendered differently if it had been introduced as a new kind of language instead of a new kind of mathematics?  Could there be a comparative framework for looking at computing in other parts of the world?

Coming from a feminist science perspective, there have been studies where women predict low performance in a math class while men predict high performance in math.  But when they actually take their math class, it’s the complete reverse where women have higher performance than the men.  Certainly there are these gendered spaces, but what do we make of the discrepancy between prediction and performance?


Event sponsored by:
MIT Program in Women’s and Gender Studies
Program in Science, Technology, and Society
Foreign Languages and Literatures


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