Evolution of Technology (TEC 154 2014S) : Readings

Readings from Teich, Group 3

Wajcman, Judy (1991). Feminist Perspectives on Technology. [Teich 10th, ch. 8, pp. 67-79]

Cornish, Edward (2004). Futuring Methods. [Teich 10th, ch. 9, pp. 80-90]

Wajcman, Clarification

On page 73 Wajcman says, "Labor-process analysts were especially critical of a technicist version of Marxism in which the development of technology and productivity is seen as the motor force of history. This interpreteation represented technology itself as beyond class struggle." What does the author mean by that? [Very good. Pulls out a difficult phrase from the reading.]

Clarifying question: During what time period was Joan Rothschild examining Technology and Culture in Wajcman's article? Do we know of significant contributions women made to technology during that time, or was there such a bias that we might not ever know? [Mixed. It's an important question, but it seems that a few minutes of library research would allow us to answer the first part, and we probably don't have the background to answer the second part. Also misses Wacjman's question of what technology is.]

Wajcman, General

Wajcman argues that many technologies are inherently patriarchal. This reminded me of Winner's argument that technologies can also be inherently political. Do you think there is a way to design a technology that does not have some sort of inherent bias? Would including women in the design of such a technology be sufficient for alleviating Wajcman's concerns? (Which I don't think it is, but why not)? It seems like no matter what humans do, we always exclude a group/many groups of people. [Very good. Ties the idea to other readings, and asks us to think broadly about implications.]

Does Wajcman believe that all technology is inherently gendered? Or that some were more masculine/ feminine over time? [Mixed. I think the underlying question is a good one, but the phrasing of the second part is awkward. We also can't know what an author believes, so asking for evidence one way or the other would be useful. (Alternately, providing evidence one way or the other would be useful.)]

What are some practical examples (existing or hypothetical) of women's values in technology? [Good. Asks us to understand the reading a bit more deeply and helps those of us who think more concretely rather than abstractly.]

In chapter 8, Wajcman discusses whether technology is patriarchal. In what ways do you think technology has been oppressive for women and in what ways do you think they liberate women? Does the former outweigh the latter? [Mixed. You could narrow the introduction to a particular section of Wajcman. Asks us to think about one of the main points of the reading. Asking broadly about technologies can be problematic as there are so many; narrowing to a particular domain might be helpful.]

Wajcman mentions on page 74 that some people argue that "capitalist technology has become more masculine than previous technologies". In what ways have we seen this manifest in some of the technologies that we all use today? [Good.]

Wajcman's portrayal of an essentialist view of technology (technology based on "women's values") states that feminine technology focuses on the human side of design. Does the rise of human-centered design and newfound prominence of the ethic of careful and thoughtful UX (user experience) design mean that technology has become more feminine? Is it useful to think of technology in this way? [Mixed. Grounds Wajcman's ideas in particular practice. However, is it a practice that we know a lot about? We'll return to this issue when we read Norman next week.]

On page 75 of "Feminist Perspectives on Technology," Wajcman suggests that the case studies have become an important and useful tool for the sociological investigation of technology. What insights do we gain from using case studies to investigate technology and the technological process, and do we find information in these case studies that allows us to generalize? What do case studies miss? [Mixed. Without knowing the details of the case studies, this question is hard to answer. But asking us to interrogate particulars of an approach is a useful approach. Perhaps using less strong words in the question would help - "What insights might we gain? How might we be able to generalize?"]

How do Wajcman’s definitions of technology on page 69 challenge or expand the definitions we came up with earlier in the class? What would we change about our definitions after reading Wajcman? [Very good. Asks us to return to our initial questions in a natural way.]

On page 72 Wajcman states, "the technologies men have created are based on the domination of nature in the same way that they seek to dominate women." I would like to know what technologies are being referred to here, as well as whether or not we think this is a fair statement. This quote does not even say that some of the technologies created by men were based on domination, and this bothers me. I understand that women’s right, not just in technology but in every aspect of the world, need to be fought for strongly, but is this statement necessary? [Fair. Misquotes the author. Wajcman isn't stating this; she's noting that the eco-feminists made this claim. But asking us to look more deeply into some of the ideas being raised is a reasonable thing. I'd leave off the last sentence, too, since it doesn't add anything.]

On page 75 Wajcman claims, "Giving women access to formal technical knowledge alone does not provide the resources necessary for invention. Experience of existing technology is a precondition for the invention of a new technology." Is this statement illuminating a problem that will be difficult to solve, or is Wajcman suggesting it is only a matter of time before women will be accredited with what they deserve? [Good. Asks us to think a bit more deeply about change processes and the implications of critiques of those change processes.]

Much of Wajcman's chapter focuses on society's failure to recognize women's contributions for inventions throughout history. Of course women should be accredited for all of their work, but don't most people use technology 99% of the time without giving the inventor of the item a single thought? Will women receiving rightful credit for inventions help dismantle the male dominated tendencies of technology? [Very good. My first inclination was to speak broadly about the mythology of the inventor, but I think that's something that could come up naturally in our discussion of this question.]

Petroski states, "...little attention has been paid to the way in which technological objects may be shaped by the operation of gender interests." Should gender and certain gender interests influence the progress ad advancements in technology? If we block out all gender implications, won't that eliminate any possible gender bias in technology? [Fair. Is this really a quote from Petroski? In any case, you need to provide a page number so that we can consider the quote in context. Makes some fairly broad assumptions (e.g., that we can block out all gender implications) which would be better phrased as questions.]

As gender equality rights continue to develop, gender issues will continue to influence all industries at a marginally increasing rate, including technology and science. If the ultimate goal is for gender to become essentially irrelevant in any decision making process, then why don't we make it irrelevant right now? By bringing up gender roles s in progressive industries like technology, we put gender on a pedestal. Is it possible to stop discussing gender roles in order to accomplish gender justice and equality? [Mixed. I think the answer to this is pretty straightforward from a feminist perspective, but it's not fair of me to assume that you know (or agree with) that perspective. In any case, this needs some more care in the wording - I'm not sure that "marginally" or "progressive" are necessary adjectives, and "put gender on a pedestal" is a problematic metaphor for many reasons.]

How might a feminist perspective affect our understanding of Florman's "tragic view" of technological/social progress? [Mixed. I like that you are asking us to link readings, but I'd like to see a bit more about why you think the readings are related (other than, say, the venue for the article that Florman was writing about).]

Can we see gender relations/heirarchies embodied or affirmed in any of the technologies or artifacts we've looked at so far? [Good. Asks us to apply the reading to some of the things we've talked about. Of course, in at least one case (stone axes), the article talks explicitly about gender relations and hierarchies.]

On page 73, Wajcman talks about an approach to technologies that states "technologies themselves are neutral and impinge on society from the outside." What does this mean? Is this approach her own approach, and if not, would there be another way to state her approach to technology? [Mixed. While I appreciate asking us to think a bit more deeply about some of the complex ideas she raises, but the second half of the sentence gives us a starting point for "what does this mean"? I think it's pretty clear from the rest of the article that it's not her approach, but I guess one could note that she does raise a variety of perspectives, which makes it harder to tell which are really hers.]


Proliferation of personal computers and nuclear desalination plants were both predicted but only one came true. What are some predictions today that you think will not become reality, what about those that you expect to see? Why? [Very good. An interesting twist on the Futurist methods and ties them to previous readings.]

Does Cornish really assert that the Delphi system would have been more appropriate in the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis? He says that the Delphi allows for better aggregation of different opinions, but does that disregard the give and take benefits of a group and rather simply ask multiple individuals for their opinions individually? [Ok. Misstates the Delphi method a bit.]

Futurist methods focus on the constantly changing world. Does this mean that they believe that social change is the sole influence in creating new technologies? [Fair. I'm not sure where you get this belief in the article. I see the Futurists as being broader than that. A quotation would help to ground the question.]

On page 81 Cornish discusses the effects of longer life spans. He says, "Longer life spans increase the number of people whom resources must be provided but also increase the number of people who can contribute to the economy and society through paid and unpaid labor." This made me think, could it be technology's job in the future to set an optimal life span and curb inventions to cater to this optimal life span? [Mixed. I like the approach of asking us to think broadly about what technologies should and should not do, but I also think it gets us a bit far from the articles.]

Cornish talks about games on page 84, and how they can have useful simulation and political practice implications. And later in the chapter, he discusses how some games might help people understand human interactions. As games become better and better, might we see more of them used as educational systems in schools, and if so,what problems might that cause? [Mixed. On one hand, I like that you are asking us to think about this approach in a new context, which may also help us think more deeply about the approach. On the other, I wonder whether the question strays too far away from the primary goal of the class, which is to build tools for assessing technology.]

Copyright (c) 2014 Samuel A. Rebelsky.

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