The “mutual shaping” approach of Judy Wajcman is a recent theoryraising within last two decades. It integrates some assumptions from DonnaHaraway’s “cyborg feminism” which could be seen as a metaphor to move beyondthe traditional feminist limitation, as well as the Actor-Network Theory (ANT)which combines social determinism and technological determinism indicating thetechnology and society both shape and influence each other (Quan-Haase, 2013). The “mutual shaping” approach focuses on exploring therelationship between the technology and gender. It not only acknowledges the multi-aspect factors have influence on both technology and gender, butalso realises their interactional relationship.
The technology here is unlikethe traditional one, and it should be viewed as “both a source and consequenceof gender relations” (Wajcman, 2010, p.143). It is a social technological networkchanging continually which suggests the gender relation and technology are bothunstable and contextual. This essay will be based on a feminist perspective, and mainly focus onJudy Wajcman’s theories and interpretations to examine how the technologicalchange influence on gender power relations, and vice versa. The framework ofthis essay will firstly introduce the main arguments and points of the “mutualshaping” approach, then use the technological examples to illustrate how thesetheories and concepts are conducted in real cases, therefore to help betterunderstand this approach, final compare and contrast the “mutual shaping”approach with previous feminist exclusive and inclusive narratives to examineits advancements. Different from the previous Action-Network Theory (ANT) whose centralpoint is the shaping/shaped relations among technological objects and genderinterests or identities, the “mutual shaping” approach highlights theinnovation (technological change) which could be viewed as sociotechnicalnetworks including “artefacts, people, organisations, cultural meanings andknowledge” (Wajcman, 2010, p.
149). The “mutual shaping” approach presents a simultaneously interacted and reciprocatedrelationship in technology and gender. To be more specific, it could beexplained as the “gender relations can be thought of as materialised intechnology (a material level), and masculinity and femininity in turn acquiretheir meaning and character through their enrolment and embeddedness in workingmachines (a semiotic level)” (Wajcman, 2010, p. 149).
It can set up an arena to explore the problemssuch as gender equality and female liberation because female is now arguably morevisible on technological design, content and use. Though gender stereotypesmight be embedded in techno-science, its relationship is mutably unfixed. It isan unavoidable trend to live under the technological culture. However, the”mutual shaping” approach avoids people being trapped in the inherent characteristicof technological determinism meaning the technology determines the developmentof the social construction and cultural values, and rethinks and redefine the exclusivegroups in the technological domains (Wajcman, 2010). Gill (2005) also appraises several important features of the “mutualshaping” approach. Firstly, it no longer obsesses on the positive or negativechange or result of the technology, rather than pay more attention to examinethe social relations embedded in it. It suggests the awareness of engaging in atechno-science environment is awake. Secondly, the “mutual shaping” approach isnot considered under a singular position, but put one’s identities, such asgender, class and sexuality, in a socio-technical network.
It is likely to workout more panoramic viewpoints. For deeply discussing and analysing the”mutual shaping” approach, I will use two examples, namely the microwave andAramis (a vehicle) respectively, to demonstrate how the gender power relationsand the technological change reciprocal or interactive with each other. Thoughthe “mutual shaping” approach is critiqued to engage less with the “highscience” and “‘sexy’ world of biotechnology” (Gill, 2005, p. 101), the domesticand routine examples could be though as a concern with ignored female field,and it will be more understandable in detailed discussion of technologicaldesign, reconfiguration and use. Faulkner’s (2001) terms – “gender intechnology” and “gender of technology” will be applied in interpreting theWajcman’s (2010, p. 143) proposition of “technology as both a source andconsequence of gender relations”.
“Gender intechnology” links with the designer’s and producer’s perception of gender,whereas the “gender of technology” refers to the capable of translating thecultural gendered symbolism to technology. Lagesen (2015) argues the lattercould be understood as “a technology is perceived as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’depending upon who ‘normally’ uses it”. It is reasonable because divides theanalysed angles into the technological designers and the users could make it possibleto set two genders apart, then it is more convenient to explore their genderrelations to reveal the changed trajectory of the techno-scientific products. Iwill discuss them from a feminist perspective, and examine the influence offemale degree of involvement.Cockburn’s and Ormrod’s (1993) exampleof the microwave shows the gender relations change the techno-scientific reconfigurationand consumption. The “gender in technology” here relies on designer’s originalintention to sell the microwave to the male who is single and with limitedcooking skills. The microwave’s market positioning is “brown goods”, such as computers,televisions and radios et al., which require the users have the expert and cleverknowledge to cope with it.
However, the “gender of technology” discourages thisimagination. It is because the microwave is supposed to put in the kitchenwhich is regarded as a domestic area. The social and cultural construction ofsexual division of labour believes it is a female domain because kitchen is a placeto show the cooking skills which implicit the familial care responsibility.
Accordingto these, the designers adjust their strategies and turn the microwave to a”white goods”, such as refrigerator, air conditioner and washing machine, whichare durable and easy-handling. In this process, the symbolic meaning of thetechnoscience is constantly negotiated and reinvented within thesocial-scientific position. Wajcman (2004, p. 47) argues that the female didenter and affect the technological innovation, nonetheless their more professionaltechnical skills are underestimated because of female social division justrequires them to show the capable of “cooking with femininity”. Latour’s (1988) Aramis car analysis couldbe used as a negative example to indicate the influence of the female role’sabsence for the technological design. The Aramis is a public transportationwhich is constructed like a train.
It is constituted by small carriages, andcould combine together for passengers’ common destination, as well as separatefor their different paths. The producer and his assistant are both heterosexualmale, even the Aramis itself is anthropopathic set as “he”. The absent femalerole in the designing process could show a hegemonic masculinity which sociallyendorsed that the important projects and organizations are male’s business.
Thecar itself “symbolizes for them individual freedom, self-realization, sexualprowess and control” (Wajcman, 2004, p. 44). The aspects that female layemphasis on are overlooked. For example, from a female identity of a mother,she may consider whether there is enough space to put the baby carriages. Thesmall cabins of Aramis could also be a hidden danger that might suffer from thesexual harassment and male violence. However, the Aramis is used as a public vehiclewhose target audiences are tended to be unsexed, so it is important to takeboth gender concerns into consideration. The Aramis example illustrates thatthe innovation network’s success not only needs the interaction relationsbetween the technology and gender, but also relatively balanced concerns of theelements involved in this network.
Therefore, it is necessary for “mutualshaping” approach to enrol other exclusive groups’ benefits to get completion. The “mutual shaping” approach is not generated without the foundation,and its interconnection with earlier work will be helpful to understand itsformation and development. In this sector, I will examine the previous exclusiveand inclusive narratives refer to the gender relation (especially in female)and technology to evidence the advancement of the “mutual shaping” approach. As to the exclusive narrative of thetechnology and female, it mostly came from the industry age. The core argumentof exclusive narrative would be the technology itself (signifier) is representedas a masculine project (signified) to have power over the nature and female(Lagesen, 2015).
As to the historical construction, the traditional technologyfocuses on the work and war, such as machine and military weapons, which arethough of the male activities. However, the daily technology aspect which referto female is ignored which underestimates the female role in technological area(Wajcman, 2010). The later elite culture exacerbates this inequality because itcreates a new professional identity. The profile of the elite is mostly the working-classwhite male, therefore it intensifies the association between the technology andmale (Wajcman, 2010). As to the social and cultural construction, thepatriarchy is embedded in male and female biological sexual differences(Firestone, 1970). The female’s reproduction, such as pregnancy, childbirth andchild-rearing, could be a form of patriarchal exploitation of female bodies.
Femalehas limited access to the education of the scientific and technical at first, whereasby the time they could, they tend to not choice them because these filed seemslike an alien masculine culture. It influences the gender division of the jobmarket as well. For example, in the UK, “fewer than one in five informationtechnology, electronics and communications (ITEC) professional and managers arefemale, and this figure is even lower in IT strategy and software developmentroles” (cite in Wajcman, 2010, p. 145; Evans et al.
, 2007). The above exclusive narrative viewsfemale as a pessimistic victim of the patriarchy, and believes the masculinepower embedded deeply in the technology. Wajcman (2010) suggests the solutioncould be the female abandon some female identity and turn it into a maleversion, while the male do not need to make the homologous reaction.
Itactually pushes the female in an adverse passive position, and aggravates theproblem of gender inequality. Compared with the “mutual shaping” approach, theexclusive narrative does not view the gender in a multiple and dynamicrelations. As to the inclusive narrative, it ismainly discussed within the dawn of digital age. The inclusive narrative couldlink to Plant’s (1996) cyber feminism theory. The main argument is that the newtechnology overturns the previous masculine identity, as well as creates thesubjectivity of the innovation. The digital technology here obscures theboundaries between human and machine, male and female.
It redesigns a relationfor female and machine which suggests the female liberation, and endows femalean active role. It usually communicates via the form of textual exchange whichcould create a new, decentred and alternatives self (Wajcman, 2010). However, the blurring boundaries and hidingbehind the cyber world might be problematic. The Daily Mail (2017) reports the Britishschools’ cyber-bullying has increased by 40% compared with the situation lastyear. The proliferation of technology, especially in social media, such asFacebook, Twitter and Instagram, makes kids have more communicating channels.However, their savvier with technology could also easily get them a fake onlineprofile and identity to commit cyber-bullying.
For example, in 2008, anAmerican 13-year-old girl called Megan Meier committed suicide because shesuffered from her online boyfriend’s humiliation. However, “he” does not existat all because “he” is a female friend of Megan Meier’s mother who want to revengefor their daughters’ broken friendships. The United States promulgated theMegan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act (2009) for this. The cyber creates an anonymouspublic space, whereas the netizens usually do not need to take responsibilityfor their judgments. The alternative selves here turn into defective protectedtools which damage the cyber rules.The Actor-Network Theory (ANT) also involvesin the inclusive narrative. It is “praised for its conception of technology asa moving, relational process, its view of society as a doing rather than being”(Gill, 2005, p. 98).
The ANT believes the embedded relation happens only duringthe productive process, and it focuses on an obvious conflict. Gill (2005)argues these characteristics will make it overlook other wider exclusions whichmay have effect on the development of technology. Wajcman (2004) claims that the ANT isstrongly affected by Foucauldian power which are represented as capacity andeffectiveness. However, it could be an acquiescence the masculine power isstill embedded within the technology, merely in a more invisible and trickyway.
The example could still be seen on the recent technology – Sophia, thesocial humanoid robot. It is factory set as a female image. The reason could bethat the robot usually applies in the service industry which is assumed as afemale domain.
The current technological demography still heavily occupies bymale. So, the female appearance may have more sexual appeal to theseheterosexual male employees, and makes their work more enjoyable. Sophia’s capableto show more than 62 facial expressions also conform to the social constructionof female in terms of emotional support.
The last but not least point is,though the technology facilitates people’s routine, there are still underlying menacewith the concerns that the technology develops beyond human’s control.Therefore, it is understandable why most artificial intelligences (AI) are bornto be “female”, because it could “diminish the treat that intelligent machinesmight pose to their human creators” (Wajcman, 2004, p. 116). Compared with the previous exclusive narrative, the inclusive narrativecould be understood as “a reaction to earlier, pessimistic feminist approachesthat stressed the inherently masculine and patriarchal nature of technoscience”(cited in Gill, 2005, p. 99; Wajcman, 2004). Itcould also be argued that these two inclusive narratives attempt to establish agender-blind social technological circumstance.
The cyber feminism’s blurringboundary of male and female, and the ANT’s focal point of society’s “doing”could be the evidence. However, the “mutual shaping” approach avoids theseblind spots, while combine their advantages, such as realising female’ssubjectivity and analysing under a social-technological context, to turn thegender-blind to the gender-aware. It is significant in exploring the femalepower relation in technology.
In conclusion, the “mutual shaping” approach is a way of exploring therelations between the technology and gender. The innovation is its focal pointwhich can be understood as a social network or a circumstance to gather theelements of the relationships. It is important in feminist study because it notonly rethink the female exclusive groups in technology, but also focuses on thechange of the embedded social technological relations. There are two examplesfor further analysing the “mutual shaping” approach. The microwave exampleshows the gender relations shape the technological reconfiguration. The Amarisindicates the female absence in designing process is likely to lead thetechnological failure.
Two previous major narratives of female and technologyare used. The exclusive narrative contains the discourse of embedded masculinepower in technology, and it shows pessimistic and passive feminist views. Whilein inclusive narrative, it emphasises the female empowerment, and the feministopinions turn to be more optimistic. Based on these narratives, the “mutualshaping” approach absorbs their advantages and abandons their disadvantages to modifyitself more suitable under the contemporary context. However, the “mutual shaping”approach should be treated within a dialectical insight because the socialrelations will change through time.