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Technologies in the Service of Humans

A Feminist Analysis of Reproduction and Change in Technology Research on Influential Technology

Time: Fri 2023-06-02 13.00

Location: K1, Teknikringen 56, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: Swedish

Subject area: Industrial Economics and Management

Doctoral student: Åsa Johansson Palmkvist , Industriell ekonomi och organisation (Inst.)

Opponent: professor Ericka Johnson,

Supervisor: professor Anna Wahl, Industriell ekonomi och organisation (Inst.); docent Charlotte Holgersson, Industriell ekonomi och organisation (Inst.)

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This thesis takes its starting point in the massive attention paid to artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years, especially the reporting on how AI maintains and reinforces power imbalances linked to gender and other categories. The aim is to examine and problematize relations between influential technology and gender from a feminist perspective. More specifically, the focus is on how co-productions of technology and gender are reproduced and changed in contemporary technology research that in various ways links to AI. The theoretical framework consists primarily of feminist science and technology studies (STS). Thus, the overall theoretical starting point is that technology and gender are “done” in relation to each other in ways that involve notions, and values about what is important. In addition, some concepts and perspectives from feminist organization studies are used, especially the concept of gender structure and centre-construction. Empirically, the study is based on semi-structured interviews with researchers and doctoral students in two academic technology research environments, and on observations of their everyday research practices. At both of these environments’ respective universities, the work on gender equality was extensive by international standards. The gender structure of the environments differed: where one of the environments was numerically male-dominated in general and had no female assistant professors, associate professors or full professors, the other environment had a relatively high proportion of women, especially among the full professors.

Central to the thesis is how the researchers and doctoral students made a distinction between traditional and new/contemporary AI. Whereas traditional AI was articulated as a delimited technology discipline with the aim of imitating humans, the new form of AI was articulated as disciplinarily vaguer and as striving to support humans; the new AI was articulated as technologies in the service of humans. Based on this division, the thesis examines which technologies, which humans and what kinds of services the articulation of the new AI refers to. It also explores the norms and ideals of being a researcher or doctoral student in the two technology research environments. The thesis highlights some specific ways in which structural and discursive aspects can impact upon how gendered norms and ideals are reproduced and challenged in technology research on influential technologies. The findings indicate that a disruption of the conventional male-dominated gender structure of technology research enables alternative understandings and ways of conducting such research. By examining how interviewees from different gendered technology research directions described their research’s relationship with AI, the thesis also illustrates how researchers’ and doctoral students’ ways of relating to emerging technological phenomena can be understood as parts of wider negotiations about the status of gendered research directions. Furthermore, the thesis discusses how the interviewees’ articulations of the potential benefits of influential technology were influenced by both power-blind and power-critical discourses. This highlights nuances in how researchers and doctoral students engaged in technology research on influential technology understand the relationship between technology research and the wider context of technology. These nuances enable a situated criticism, with greater potential to be heard from within the field itself.