Plan for the evening
- Jonathan will lead class discussion on Weber’s article
- More Discussion on Weber’s article
- Ch. 9 in Barker and Jane
- Prose Revision Lesson #2
- Looking Ahead to Technology Projects
- Workshop on Social Construction of Technology Essays
Leading Class Discussion
Let’s give Jonathan our attention for the next 20 minutes as he leads the discussion on Rachel Weber’s “Manufacturing Gender in Military Cockpit Design.”
Social Construction of Technology Essays
I hope you’ve been thinking about this for a while. After all, it’s been on the Assignments page all semester: Social Construction of Technology Essays. Before we even look at the guidelines, I want to stress that this essay asks you to think of a social value or cultural belief (or condition) that appears to drive the production and/or use of a technology. It isn’t predominantly about a technology–it’s about showing how specific cultural (possibly hegemonic) values mediate technologies. Technologies reflect and respond to prevailing ideology.
Rachel N. Weber’s “Manufacturing Gender in Military Cockpit Design”
Before we get into this, I need to make a disclaimer and focus our attention to more productive places. This reading (and the others) aren’t supposed to make you experts for or provide technical details on specific technologies. The readings try to help you understand the rhetoric of technology by demonstrating the how/why/when/where/who surrounding technology. Even if some technologies seem out of date, the readings still have value for two reasons: 1) the critical distance historical analysis allows and 2) analyzing the discourse and culture surrounding the technology. We’re more concerned with analyzing the cultural reasons, a story for why a technology came to be as opposed to trying to assess whether or not a technology was the “best” option. These historical analyses should help you (re)think about contemporary technologies. Your own analyses will be influenced by what others say about technologies because that discourse is loaded with cultural values. Remember, we read technologies to discover something about our culture.
This article raises an important discussion about technological determinism. There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if one argues that women can’t be pilots because they don’t fit into the cockpits. Well, if the cockpits are created for men…
- Traditional feminist view is military weapons are the extension of the phallus (p. 373).
- “‘inherent’ masculinity of such [military] technologies is socially constructed” (p. 373).
- What are some commercial, non-military technologies that you can think of that have design bias against other body types?
- Giant Head and coach seats…
- Ergonomics and Anthropometrics: guidelines for designing equipment (p. 374).
- “Design bias has far-reaching implications for gender equity in the military” (p. 375)
- Cockpit designs protect traditionally male occupations (p. 375).
Relevant Social Groups
“[N]o matter how well an invention works, [it] must also adhere to larger cultural values. Relevant social groups immersed in a particular culture affix meaning to inventions, thus, building technological frames. Bijker (1995) explained that ‘[a] technological frame is built up when interaction ‘around’ an artifact begins’; if a frame is not built up in order to ‘move members of an emerging relevant social group in the same direction,’ a technology will fail (p. 123). Before users will accept a technology, they must believe the product adheres to social values. These values give meaning to a technological frame. Bijker observed that ‘[a] technological frame comprises all elements that influence the interactions within relevant social groups and lead to the attribution of meanings to technical artifacts—and thus to constituting technology’ (p. 123). Therefore, these frames can be understood as sets of meaning(s) groups affix to technology.” (Toscano 2012, p. 36).
- “The process of design accommodation in the military became a process of negotiation between various social groups who held different stakes in and interpretations of the technology in question” (paraphrasing Pinch and Bijker, 1984).
- So what does this mean for Weber’s analysis? This reading (and Fallows) are about the relevant social groups within the military who affix meaning and push for particular technological developments. Technologies don’t just come to be because they are the best–they are made to fit the values of a particular culture (big and small cultures).
- Les Aspin’s directive to include more women in combat (p. 376).
- “negotiations over accommodation arose as a result of changes made in policies regarding women in combat” (p. 376).
- New JPATS sitting height threshold to reach 80% of eligible women (p. 376).
- Pragmatists note that design changes could mean more foreign sales (p. 377). $$$$$ = motivation
Framing the Discussion/Setting the Rules
- Changing the “debate” from accommodating women to accommodating all service members (top of p. 378).
- Notice that Weber’s argument is that change happened, in part, because of rhetoric: The major strategy wasn’t to claim the changes were for expanding women’s opportunities but for expanding opportunities for more military personnel.
- The perspective of female officers seeing a demand of special rights from women in the military (p. 378).
- Winning aircraft contracts linked to crew accommodations: This policy decision drives what features and to what specifications new technologies (aircraft) will be designed–politics of technology (p. 379).
- Tailhook scandal and Anita Hill–early 1990s and sexual harassment awareness.
Questions for this article:
- What’s feminism got to do with manly* stuff like science and technology?
*I’m obviously being facetious.
- What’s the goal of this article?
- What happens when spaces have to be designed?
- Is it fair to say the military was sexist because of its “typical” or assumed pilot size?
- Cause and effect. Could it be that gender exclusion led to the androcentric (male oriented) design? In other words, what comes first: sexism or sexist products?
Barker & Jane Ch. 9 “Sex, Subjectivity and Representation”
Because quite a bit is repeated, and because I want to broaden your understanding of Judith Butler’s work, I want to give an overview of Butler, show some videos, and have you discuss in groups. In fact, get into groups of 2 or 3 and reflect on the question below:
- What do cyborgs, Barbie dolls, G.I. Joe Action Figures, and this product say about gender?
Quotations to Ponder from Butler
Remember, our conversations aren’t done to find the last word. Discussions of gender and technology happened before this class and will happen long after this class. We’re really just trying to get a handle on our moment in time. One could immediately come out swinging and claim Butler is misguided and obtuse, but the better approach is to try to understand why she concludes the way she does. She is a tough read, so let’s focus on some key places in her seminal text: “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal 40.4 (Dec. 1988): pp. 519-531.
- Thesis…perhaps…p. 521: “the acts by which gender is constituted bear similarities to performative acts within theatrical contexts”
- p. 519: “gender…is an identity constituted in time–an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts“
- “…bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self”
- p. 520: “the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between…a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style”
- p. 520: “Feminist theory has often been critical of naturalistic explanations of sex and sexuality that assume that the meaning of women’s social existence can be derived from some fact of their physiology”
- p. 521: “the body is a historical situation,…a manner of doing dramatizing, and reproducing a historical situation”
- p. 522: “those who fail to do their gender right are regularly punished”
- How so? Think of examples where women or men appear to perform roles opposite of the gender. Can you think of a situation where one gender is not punished for performing the opposite gender’s prescribed role?
- pp. 522-523: “The personal is thus political inasmuch as it is conditioned by shared social structures, but the personal has also been immunized against political challenge to the extent that public/private distinctions endure”
- In the context of this class, consider our discussions on the INDIVIDUAL and how our culture promotes an ideology of individualism.
- Our culture wants to believe that there’s a private self, in a vacuum, that is simply personal preference.
- Break with capital-F Feminism…perhaps…p. 523: “one ought to consider the futility of a political program which seeks radically to transform the social situation of women without first determining whether the category of woman is socially constructed in such a way that to be a woman is, by definition, to be in an oppressed situation”
- Uh-oh…what is she suggesting? Think about our discussions of feminism not being monolithic.
- What’s to gain from holding onto the distinction of the binary categories of men and women?
- p. 524: “one way in which this system of compulsory heterosexuality is reproduced and concealed is through the cultivation of bodies into discrete sexes with ‘natural’ appearances and ‘natural’ heterosexual dispositions”
Have another classmate or 2 read your Social Construction of Technology Essay and provide feedback.
Your Social Construction of Technology Essays are due on 11/07. The Cowan article is going to bring us into the home, so be aware of your household technologies this next week (when you aren’t finishing your essays). Also, finish Barker and Jane Ch. 11 “Digital Media Culture”–notice that I’m not assigning Ch. 10 on Television, Texts and Audiences.