The Gender of Things: How Epistemic and Technological Objects Become Gendered
Call for contributions to a collective volume
Do things have gender? What an unthinkable question especially to space engineers who put astronauts on the moon; to artificial intelligence researchers who construct humanoid robots to assist humanity in saving the planet; to physicists who investigate nature inside a scientific laboratory; to surgeons who struggle to save human lives in state-of-the-art operating theaters. Yet, what seems “unthinkable” to practitioners in science, technology and medicine, has been common knowledge to scholars working in the humanities and the social sciences: things could be gendered. This is a book about the processes of gendering things. It is an interdisciplinary approach to the relationship between gender and the material culture of technoscience, in other words, gender and contradictory cultural, economic and social values and meanings attributed to epistemic and technological objects.
Focusing especially on all those things that lie on laboratory benches, engineers’ workshops and medical facilities, our goal is to expose the practices that attribute gender to epistemic and technological objects. The central questions in this collection of essays are not only “who can speak of nature?” and “who can design?” but “who has been making these determinations?” throughout history. How does a thing such as a spacesuit, a humanoid-robot, a ‘Frankenstein’ measuring machine, or a surgical instrument become a gendered object? As we peer into scientific instruments, medical devices and technological artifacts, our concern is not about the objects themselves. The spacesuits used in NASA’s 2019 project to allow an entirely female team of astronauts to go on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station for the first time, become a means to understand the legacy of sexism in the space program. As space equipment, including spacesuits, has historically been designed with men in mind, in its first attempt at an all-female spacewalk, NASA realized that there were no suitable spacesuits for both women in the team. Sophia, the humanoid robot to be named the United Nations Development Programme's first ever Innovation Champion, comes with a gendered notion of how artificial intelligence conceptualizes human-robot interactions. Several humanoid robots imitate female gestures and facial expressions, speak with a female voice, dress in skirts, and have a smiling face with makeup. A ‘Frankenstein’ measuring machine—a read off and calculation apparatus that reduced bubble chamber film to machine-readable data —points to a deep shift in gender roles within the physicists’ work place in the late 1950s: “unskilled” women took up the “natural role” of scanning photographs and recording data whereas male physicists interpreted the results. A knife in a surgeon’s hand provides an indication of how the medical ergonomics favor male surgeons and how surgical instruments are designed for male surgeons, who until recently tended to be the majority in their field. After all, things are powerful tokens of scientific and technological cultures, opening up a window for understanding the gendering of technoscientific disciplines.
We welcome essays of 3000-3500 words on a single object from any historical period that becomes the focal point for an analysis of the ways gender is embedded in a material creation used in the sciences, technology and medicine. The originality of the book resides in the fact that it addresses material culture not in everyday life but in the “hard” sciences and in newly emerging fields such as artificial intelligence to examine the co-production of gender and technoscience.
Submission of abstracts: 14 May 2021; Submission of early drafts: 31 July 2021; Submission of final revisions: 10 September 2021
Please send your abstracts to the authors: Aida Bosch (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Maria Rentetzi (email@example.com ) both at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg.