The “gender relations can be thought of as materialised

The “mutual shaping” approach of Judy Wajcman is a recent theory
raising within last two decades. It integrates some assumptions from Donna
Haraway’s “cyborg feminism” which could be seen as a metaphor to move beyond
the traditional feminist limitation, as well as the Actor-Network Theory (ANT)
which combines social determinism and technological determinism indicating the
technology and society both shape and influence each other (Quan-Haase, 2013).

The “mutual shaping” approach focuses on exploring the
relationship between the technology and gender. It not only acknowledges the multi-aspect factors have influence on both technology and gender, but
also realises their interactional relationship. The technology here is unlike
the traditional one, and it should be viewed as “both a source and consequence
of gender relations” (Wajcman, 2010, p.143). It is a social technological network
changing continually which suggests the gender relation and technology are both
unstable and contextual.

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This essay will be based on a feminist perspective, and mainly focus on
Judy Wajcman’s theories and interpretations to examine how the technological
change influence on gender power relations, and vice versa. The framework of
this essay will firstly introduce the main arguments and points of the “mutual
shaping” approach, then use the technological examples to illustrate how these
theories and concepts are conducted in real cases, therefore to help better
understand this approach, final compare and contrast the “mutual shaping”
approach with previous feminist exclusive and inclusive narratives to examine
its advancements.


Different from the previous Action-Network Theory (ANT) whose central
point is the shaping/shaped relations among technological objects and gender
interests or identities, the “mutual shaping” approach highlights the
innovation (technological change) which could be viewed as sociotechnical
networks including “artefacts, people, organisations, cultural meanings and
knowledge” (Wajcman, 2010, p. 149).

The “mutual shaping” approach presents a simultaneously interacted and reciprocated
relationship in technology and gender. To be more specific, it could be
explained as the “gender relations can be thought of as materialised in
technology (a material level), and masculinity and femininity in turn acquire
their meaning and character through their enrolment and embeddedness in working
machines (a semiotic level)” (Wajcman, 2010, p. 149).

It can set up an arena to explore the problems
such as gender equality and female liberation because female is now arguably more
visible on technological design, content and use. Though gender stereotypes
might be embedded in techno-science, its relationship is mutably unfixed. It is
an unavoidable trend to live under the technological culture. However, the
“mutual shaping” approach avoids people being trapped in the inherent characteristic
of technological determinism meaning the technology determines the development
of the social construction and cultural values, and rethinks and redefine the exclusive
groups in the technological domains (Wajcman, 2010).

Gill (2005) also appraises several important features of the “mutual
shaping” approach. Firstly, it no longer obsesses on the positive or negative
change or result of the technology, rather than pay more attention to examine
the social relations embedded in it. It suggests the awareness of engaging in a
techno-science environment is awake. Secondly, the “mutual shaping” approach is
not considered under a singular position, but put one’s identities, such as
gender, class and sexuality, in a socio-technical network. It is likely to work
out more panoramic viewpoints.


For deeply discussing and analysing the
“mutual shaping” approach, I will use two examples, namely the microwave and
Aramis (a vehicle) respectively, to demonstrate how the gender power relations
and the technological change reciprocal or interactive with each other. Though
the “mutual shaping” approach is critiqued to engage less with the “high
science” and “‘sexy’ world of biotechnology” (Gill, 2005, p. 101), the domestic
and routine examples could be though as a concern with ignored female field,
and it will be more understandable in detailed discussion of technological
design, reconfiguration and use.

Faulkner’s (2001) terms – “gender in
technology” and “gender of technology” will be applied in interpreting the
Wajcman’s (2010, p. 143) proposition of “technology as both a source and consequence of
gender relations”. “Gender in technology” links with the
designer’s and producer’s perception of gender, whereas the “gender of
technology” refers to the capable of translating the cultural gendered
symbolism to technology. Lagesen (2015) argues the latter could be understood
as “a technology is perceived as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ depending upon who ‘normally’
uses it”. It is reasonable because divides the analysed angles into the technological
designers and the users could make it possible to set two genders apart, then
it is more convenient to explore their gender relations to reveal the changed
trajectory of the techno-scientific products. I will discuss them from a
feminist perspective, and examine the influence of female degree of

Cockburn’s and Ormrod’s (1993) example
of the microwave shows the gender relations change the techno-scientific reconfiguration
and consumption. The “gender in technology” here relies on designer’s original
intention to sell the microwave to the male who is single and with limited
cooking 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 clever
knowledge to cope with it. However, the “gender of technology” discourages this
imagination. It is because the microwave is supposed to put in the kitchen
which is regarded as a domestic area. The social and cultural construction of
sexual division of labour believes it is a female domain because kitchen is a place
to show the cooking skills which implicit the familial care responsibility. According
to these, the designers adjust their strategies and turn the microwave to a
“white goods”, such as refrigerator, air conditioner and washing machine, which
are durable and easy-handling. In this process, the symbolic meaning of the
technoscience is constantly negotiated and reinvented within the
social-scientific position. Wajcman (2004, p. 47) argues that the female did
enter and affect the technological innovation, nonetheless their more professional
technical skills are underestimated because of female social division just
requires them to show the capable of “cooking with femininity”.

Latour’s (1988) Aramis car analysis could
be used as a negative example to indicate the influence of the female role’s
absence for the technological design. The Aramis is a public transportation
which is constructed like a train. It is constituted by small carriages, and
could combine together for passengers’ common destination, as well as separate
for their different paths. The producer and his assistant are both heterosexual
male, even the Aramis itself is anthropopathic set as “he”. The absent female
role in the designing process could show a hegemonic masculinity which socially
endorsed that the important projects and organizations are male’s business. The
car itself “symbolizes for them individual freedom, self-realization, sexual
prowess and control” (Wajcman, 2004, p. 44). The aspects that female lay
emphasis 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. The
small cabins of Aramis could also be a hidden danger that might suffer from the
sexual harassment and male violence. However, the Aramis is used as a public vehicle
whose target audiences are tended to be unsexed, so it is important to take
both gender concerns into consideration. The Aramis example illustrates that
the innovation network’s success not only needs the interaction relations
between the technology and gender, but also relatively balanced concerns of the
elements involved in this network. Therefore, it is necessary for “mutual
shaping” 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 its
formation and development. In this sector, I will examine the previous exclusive
and 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 the
technology and female, it mostly came from the industry age. The core argument
of exclusive narrative would be the technology itself (signifier) is represented
as a masculine project (signified) to have power over the nature and female
(Lagesen, 2015). As to the historical construction, the traditional technology
focuses on the work and war, such as machine and military weapons, which are
though of the male activities. However, the daily technology aspect which refer
to female is ignored which underestimates the female role in technological area
(Wajcman, 2010). The later elite culture exacerbates this inequality because it
creates a new professional identity. The profile of the elite is mostly the working-class
white male, therefore it intensifies the association between the technology and
male (Wajcman, 2010). As to the social and cultural construction, the
patriarchy is embedded in male and female biological sexual differences
(Firestone, 1970). The female’s reproduction, such as pregnancy, childbirth and
child-rearing, could be a form of patriarchal exploitation of female bodies. Female
has limited access to the education of the scientific and technical at first, whereas
by the time they could, they tend to not choice them because these filed seems
like an alien masculine culture. It influences the gender division of the job
market as well. For example, in the UK, “fewer than one in five information
technology, electronics and communications (ITEC) professional and managers are
female, and this figure is even lower in IT strategy and software development
roles” (cite in Wajcman, 2010, p. 145; Evans et al., 2007).

The above exclusive narrative views
female as a pessimistic victim of the patriarchy, and believes the masculine
power embedded deeply in the technology. Wajcman (2010) suggests the solution
could be the female abandon some female identity and turn it into a male
version, while the male do not need to make the homologous reaction. It
actually pushes the female in an adverse passive position, and aggravates the
problem of gender inequality. Compared with the “mutual shaping” approach, the
exclusive narrative does not view the gender in a multiple and dynamic


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