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1177/1097184X03260956 / AprilAND TECHNOLOGIES


Masculinities and Technologies

Some Introductory Remarks
MARIA LOHAN Trinity College WENDY FAULKNER University of Edinburgh

This special issue is concerned with the social and cultural aligning of technologies and masculinitieshow it happens and how we might make sense of it. Technology is an extremely significant site of gender negotiations in relation to occupations, symbols, and identities, and gender in all these areas has an extremely significant shaping influence on the design and use of technologies. As Cynthia Cockburn has argued (1992), since technology and gender are both socially constructed and socially pervasive, we can never fully understand one without also understanding the other. By the same token, since men and masculinities are particularly prominent within gendertechnology relations, technology should be a vital strand within the field of men/masculinity studies, and masculinities should be a vital strand within the field of technology studies. Yet relationships between men/masculinities and technologies are seriously underresearched in both fields. The relative dearth of related research in men and masculinities studies is surprising given that science and technology are widely acknowledged as powerful motifs of hegemonic masculinity. Useful studies of blue-collar occupations where men work closely with technologies have been collected in a special issue of Men and Masculinities, titled Boys and Their Toys.1 But we have not seen similar scrutiny of other sites in which men encounter technologies or of the cultural equations drawn between masculinity and technology and the roles these may play in wider gender relations. The relative dearth of research on masculinities and technologies within technology studies is surprising given the frequent acknowledgment that powerful technological roles are predominantly occupied by men who thereby have a disproportionate influence in shaping new technologies. But only recently have men/masculinities become a distinct theme of feminist technology studies (see below). We chose to compile this special issue in part to stimulate research on the topic and in part because we believe that both men/masculinities studies and feminist technology studies have much to contribute and learn from one
Men and Masculinities, Vol. 6 No. 4, April 2004 319-329 DOI: 10.1177/1097184X03260956 2004 Sage Publications




another in the study of masculinities and technologies. Conceptually, each field is arguably weak in the others area of expertise. So, men/masculinities studies, as with gender studies in general (Faulkner 2001), has tended to undertheorize technology, while technology studies, even feminist technology studies, has tended to undertheorize masculinity. Accordingly, masculinity studies has an important contribution to make to further studies of men and technologiesfor example, Bob Connells (1987) concept of hegemonic masculinity and the emphasis on the complexity and contingency of gender identities (e.g., Brod and Kaufman 1994; Bird 1996; Demetriou 2001). The understanding of technology as socially constructed, which is paradigmatic within technology studies, has a vital role to play in any further research on the topicfor example, the insistence of feminist technology studies that gender and technology be understood as mutually shaping one another or coproduced (see below). Our own engagement with the topic has grown out of this latter tradition. Moreover, in spite of our having solicited contributions widely, all of the articles submitted for publication in this special issue came from the field of feminist technology studies. On the assumption that this scholarship will be largely unfamiliar to the readership of this journal, we start our opening remarks by outlining some of the key antecedents and concepts. We then introduce the articles selected for inclusion in the special issue and conclude by reflecting on the contribution we hope they make and on themes for future research.


Feminist technology studies may be distinguished from other feminist scholarship on technology insofar as it starts from a constructivist understanding of technology. Other, nonconstructivist feminist scholarship on technology falls largely under two headings: women in technology and women and technology. The first strand of research, which is small, but longstanding, addresses the question, why so few women in technology? In engineering and computing especially, this is an issue now firmly on the agendas of governments and industry. For the most part, the literature on women in technology remains within the liberal tradition and problematizes women rather than technology (Henwood 1996). Yet there is a strong case that the male dominance of engineering, for example, is sustained in part by a wider cultural marking of technology as masculine (e.g., Hpnes and Rasmussen 1991) and brings with it a masculine culture that is inimical to womens progression within the occupation (McIlwee and Robinson 1992). The secondand largerstream of (nonconstructivist) research on women and technology emerged during the late 1970s, prompted by the advent of word-



processing technology (see Webster 1990) and by womens health activism around various medical technologies (e.g., Stanworth 1987). This shift effectively broadened the agenda beyond the obvious equity issue, reflecting the fact that the vast majority of women encounter technology as users rather than designers. Much of the feminist research on women and individual technologies has tended to be either techno-optimist or techno-pessimist, with the latter portraying women as victims of mens technology (Berg 1997, chap. 1). Technology per se is not theorized beyond this (Faulkner 2001). In contrast, technology studies avoids these polar opposites, precisely because it sees technology as socially shaped and therefore potentially reshapeable. The constructivist framing of technology (see below) emphasizes complexity and contingency in ways that accord much more authentically with the ambivalence that typically characterizes womens encounters with technology (Faulkner 2001). Accordingly, technology studies is selfconsciously neither optimistic nor pessimistic about technology. The small, but growing, body of what now gets called feminist technology studies grew jointly out of this tradition and out of existing feminist work on technology and was clearly identifiable by the 1990s.2 This (third) stream of research tends to be couched in terms of gender and technology rather than women and technology, signaling an insistence that technology as well as gender should be understood as socially constructed. Early work in feminist technology studies sought to explore the various ways in which technologies are gendered. Cynthia Cockburns work (1983, 1985) was extremely formative. Her seminal study of printing demonstrated how technical skills and artifacts3 can be constructed in ways which favor men over women in the paid labor force. These themes were well rehearsed in labor process studies (e.g., McNeil 1987), in accounts of how powerful technological roles came to be marked as masculine during the course of industrialization (Cockburn 1985; Oldenziel 1999), and in studies of kitchen technology and domestic labor (notably, Cowan 1983). Increasingly, feminist technology studies highlighted not only how gender can shape technology but also how the design and/or use of technologies can constitute gender identities and relations. During the 1990s, much of the empirical research within this tradition focused on the use and users of technologies in everyday life, especially in the home (see, e.g., Srensen and Berg, 1991; Lie and Srensen 1996; Silverstone and Hirsch 1992; Cockburn and Dilic 1994; Cockburn and Ormrod 1993). Only recently have men/masculinities been singled out for attention in this work (e.g., Lie 1995; Lohan 2001; Oudshoorn 1999) or has feminist technology studies focused on engineers who design new technologies (e.g., Mellstrm 1995; Oldenziel 1999; Faulkner 2000a, 2000b). Before moving on to elaborate this (fourth) strand of research on men/ masculinities and technologies, let us pause to rehearse the key conceptual tenets of feminist technology studies that frame this work.



The starting point of constructivist studies of technology is a rejection of two prevalent understandings of technologythat technology is neutral or asocial and that it determines social change. An important concept here is Thomas Hughess (1986) notion of the sociotechnical. The unusual step of creating a composite, nonhyphenated word is intended to convey that technology is never just technical or just social. Rather, the relationship between the technical and the social is a densely interactive, seamless web (Hughes 1986). This means that the process of designing and developing new technology is necessarily heterogeneous (Law 1987); that is, it involves social as well as technical expertise and choices.4 Heterogeneity also means that technology is understood as being thoroughly part of the social fabric, thus warranting a sociological gaze.5 One consequence of this is that in a very real sense, those who design new technologies are, by the same stroke, designing society (Latour 1988; Bijker and Law 1992). But the process of designing technologies and societies is not straightforward, because technology is subject to considerable interpretative flexibility. Technology is shaped as a result of complex social processes in which, typically, diverse groups do battle over what the artifact should do, look like, and so forth.6 The possibility always exists that a technology and its outcomes could be otherwise. We may summarize the constructivist framework by saying that the relationship between technology and society is seen as mutually constituted. By the same token, gender and technology are seen as mutually shaping or, in a more poststructural trope, as coproduced. This is a central tenet of feminist technology studies. It means that specific technological artifacts may be gender shaped and may have gender consequences and that this process can be charted in the design and use of technologies.7 Thus, the feminist technology studies outlined above have demonstrated how gendered presumptions may be designed into artifacts and how those same artifacts may be flexibly reinterpreted by users to have different meanings and uses. In this way, they illuminate the different social contexts within which particular gender constructions and particular technologies appear, thus demonstrating that even the nuts and bolts of technology warrant a feminist gaze. A poststructural turn is palpable within the broad church of feminist technology studies. On one hand, there are tensions between a structuralist emphasis on the historical roots and durability of cultural equation between masculinity and technology, and, on the other hand, there is the antiessentialist refusal to see either technology or men as necessarily about control and domination (Lohan 2000). Cynthia Cockburn has argued that groups of men historically have positioned themselves in key technological roles for example, metal working in feudal times and machine tooling in industrial times (1985, chap. 1). And numerous writers have shown how modern science and technology, hegemonic masculinity, and industrial capitalism are all linked symbolically by themes of control and domination (e.g., Merchant 1982; Easlea 1981; Noble 1991). The mastery of nature remains a power-



ful emblem of technology (e.g., Caputi 1988), and, for this and other reasons, Judy Wajcman has suggested (1991, chap. 7) that technology may be understood as a masculine culture. During the 1990s, such pronouncements were challenged by colleagues in technology studies for tending to essentialize both gender and technology, although some would argue such challenges did not go far enough (e.g., Grint and Gill 1995, chap. 1; Grint and Woolgar 1995).8 A common response of feminist technology studies to this challenge (e.g., Berg 1997; Lerman, Mohun, and Oldenziel 1997)one that we sharehas been to hold on to gender as an analytical category while empirically remaining open to the existence of a diverse range of potentially contradictory gender-technology relations. This position eschews any residual tendency to view technology as deterministically patriarchal (or capitalist or imperialist); at the same time, however, it is concerned to explore the distinct, but related, links between structure, symbolism, and identity in gender-technology relations.9 So, what is framing existing scholarship on men/masculinities and technologies? First, it has a diverse empirical focus, encompassing those men who work/play intimately with technologies, who are often portrayed as being in love with technologies, as well as those who have no particular affinity with technologies but encounter them (as we all do) in daily life.10 Second, this stream of research is concerned to examine how masculinities and technologies converge (or otherwise) in terms of subjectivities and identities, practices, and symbols. This conceptual focus is justified by the apparently durable and pervasive equations drawn between masculinity and technology. It reflects an interest in research that serves, on one hand, to understand the continuing stability of equations between masculinity and technology and, on the other hand, to destabilize such equations by exploring contexts within which new relationships between masculinities and technologies might be developing.

The collection of articles in this special issue reflects both the empirical range and the issues of stability and fluidity that mark scholarship on masculinities and technologies in general. Two of the articles are about men in technologyspecifically, various types of engineeringand two are about men and technologyspecifically, two new reproductive technologies. The two articles on engineering span different contexts of time and place. Lisa Frehill investigates the development and professionalization of engineering in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, while Ulf Mellstrm investigates craft car mechanics in Malaysia and professional automotive engineers in Sweden at the turn of the twenty-first century. The two articles also tell somewhat different stories from different empirical bases on stability or,



more accurately, on the construction and reconstruction of equations between masculinity and technology. Drawing on contemporary engineering journals, Frehill demonstrates that the male dominance of professional engineering in the United States historically was not a given. Rather, the professionalization of engineering was accompanied by the active creation of a new version of masculinity, one consistent with concurrent changes in hegemonic masculinity occurring in the United States at the time. In particular, she draws attention to the development of engineering education as test of real manhood. Mellstrms fascinating ethnographic observations of Penang car mechanics also address the acquisition of technical skill and status, which is shown to be grounded in an early embodiment of machines and technology. In spite of the obvious differences between the car mechanics in Penang and professional engineers in Sweden, technology provides a focus for homosocial enactments of hegemonic masculinity in both groups. In addition, Mellstrm shows how important technology can be to such mens identities and subjectivities; he reveals an affinity to, and passionate pleasure in, machines, which, in some cases, involves a heterosexual anthropomorphizing of the machine. Similarly, Tine Kleifs study of technology hobbyists (Kleif and Faulkner 2003) revealed both intimacy with technology and intimacy with other men around technology. Significantly, both forms of pleasure largely exclude women and are thus interpreted as part of patriarchal power around technologies. By contrast to the case of engineering, reproductive technologies are not conventionally associated with men; this is an area where one might expect familiar ideas about masculinities and technologies to be particularly destabilized. A somewhat more complex picture emerges from Karen Thorsby and Ros Gills interviews of mens experiences with in vitro fertilization (IVF) in the United Kingdom. There is no taken-for-granted affinity here between the male participants and this technology; they reported that they were going along for the sake of their partners and to act as the rational brake on when to stop. At the same time, there are interesting contradictions regarding how the men tried to make sense of this technology as a means of treating infertility. On one hand, IVF was favored over other lowtech fertility treatments as the very best science had to offer, thus recreating the bond between men and high technology. On the other hand, IVF was simultaneously rationalized as being not really technical; it was simply offering nature a helping hand; thus, the participants identity as fertile men (and so virile) was not undermined. For all the newness of the technology, the paper points to considerable gender conservatism in the close link drawn between male fertility and virility in the mens friendships and in the fairly conventional division of emotional labor around the IVF within the couples studied. By contrast, the potential for gender change is far more apparent in Nelly Oudshoorns account of the men who participated in European clinical trials



for a male hormonal contraceptive. The technology of contraception was feminized in the latter half of the twentieth century, when women came to be seen as the sex responsible for contraception. This feminization was brought about by a complex social network, including the feminist movement, family-planning policies and clinics, scientists, and pharmaceutical industries. Drawing on a range of sources, Oudshoorn demonstrates how the strong cultural and social alignment of hormonal contraceptive technologies with women meant that the development of a male contraception inevitably came into conflict with hegemonic masculinity, thus creating challenges for the identity of the technology and for the identity of the male trial users. This article, more than any other, provides an empirical illustration of the coproduction of gender and technological artifacts.

Our aim in producing this special issue has been to put the topic of masculinities and technologies on the map for future research and reflection and, in the process, to open a window for cross-fertilization of ideas, concerns, and concepts between feminist technology studies and men/masculinities studies. We have argued that both fields need to include masculinities and technologies in their research agendas. The field of technology studies needs to address men/masculinities because of the crucial role of male-dominated technical occupations in shaping new technology and the wider cultural equations of technology and masculinity, which shape this and other gendertechnology relations. The field of men/masculinities studies needs to address technology per se because of the apparently enduring connections between hegemonic forms of masculinity (both blue and white collar) and technology in terms of symbols, practices, identities, and structures. We have also argued that both fields have much to learn from one another. Since this special issue comes from the field of feminist technology studies, we have sought in this introduction to highlight the value of the constructivist approach to technology, which understands gender and technology as coproduced and seeks to investigate the practices by which this happens. Accordingly, the articles in this collection illustrate in a range of settings that when technology is molded, gender is too and vice versa. They also highlight some key themes about mens subjective encounters with technology as well as the close affinity that some men feel and the ambivalence of others. Such contrasts highlight the need to look at the specificities of particular technologies and particular social settings. But alongside these contrasts, there are also recurring themes, evident, not least, in the frequent reference to hegemonic masculinity (or masculinities) in these articles. We suspect that our use of this concept could be refined considerably, and this is an area where the field of men/masculinities studies clearly has a contribution to make. How,



for example, might we think about the coexistence of and relationship between the two very distinct blue- and white-collar versions of mens affinity to technology epitomized by the car mechanic and the computer nerd? Finally, we are struck by the intricate coexistence of change and continuity in the seamless web surrounding masculinities and technologies. It is rare to find individual cases where gender-technology relations are clearly changing for the better or entrenching for the worse. Although there are clear destabilizing trendsthe existence of female hackers who experience deep pleasures in technology, for instanceany future pattern in gendertechnology relations remains unclear. As we look forward in the new century, we can envisage a world in which technologies become ever more part of our social and personal fabric, not only information and communication technologies but also various biotechnologies. Neither of these technologies carries the strong trope of the muscular, hands-on engagement that so marked the mechanical technologies of the industrial revolution and remains such a strong theme in blue-collar masculinities. So, will there be new gender battles over primacy in these new sociotechnical domains? Will the masculinitytechnology equation be undermined as a result, or will it merely change in character?

1. This collection is now an edited book (see Horowitz 2001). 2. Smothered by Invention (Arnold & Faulkner 1985) was the first collection of empirical material across diverse technologies and sites. Judy Wajcmans (1991) overview Feminism Confronts Technology very effectively brought together current evidence and debates regarding individual technologies and sites. Both anticipated the emergence of the gender and technology stream of scholarship, and both talked of technology as masculine, with reference to its historical roots and its cultures, although this language has since been criticized as essentialist (Gill and Grint 1995). 3. The gendered construction of artifacts may be less obvious to readers. In the printing study, Cockburn (1983) showed how specific design choicesthat is, to opt for the development of linotype technology with a keyboard different from the QWERTY keyboardacted to maintain womens exclusion from compositing work. And more recently, Ruth Oldenziel (1999, chap. 1) demonstrated that the emergence of professional engineering as a predominantly male occupation was accompanied by a narrowing of contemporary definitions of technology to focus on industrial machinery, which acted to eclipse other categories of artifacts to which women had contributed inventions. 4. Thomas Edisons success with the electric lightbulb, for example, rested not only on technical inventiveness about filaments but also on economic calculations about what properties the filament needed to have for electric lighting to compete with gas lighting and on his having the entrepreneurial and political acumen to mobilize financiers and city authorities to back the establishment of the requisite infrastructure (Hughes 1983). 5. Most notably, Bruno Latour (1992) has argued that sociology cannot afford to ignore the missing masses of mundane artefacts. He argues that artifacts need to be treated as nonhuman actors that are inscripted (Akrich 1992) to have certain material (sociotechnical) effects self-closing fire doors being his classic example.



6. For instance, there were numerous, bizarre configurations of frame, wheels, pedals, and seats before the modern bicycle emerged in its now familiar shape, reflecting in part the divergent interests of different users (Pinch and Bijker, 1984). 7. The best example of such work, which investigated design, marketing, and use, is the study of the early development of the microwave by Cynthia Cockburn and Susan Ormrod (1993; see also Ormrod 1994). 8. At the same time, constructivist and actor network approaches to the study of technological change have been criticized by feminists in the field for failing to take account of the history and durability of particular gender arrangements and for neglecting the social construction of artifacts and the building of networks that take place in the context of the use of technology (e.g., Cockburn 1992). Various positions taken around feminism and constructivism in technology studies are presented in a special issue of Science, Technology, & Human Values (1995) on feminist and constructivist perspectives on new technology and in Grint and Gill (1995). 9. There has been limited research done on this theme. Most notable in our view is the sustained work of Merete Lie (1995, 1998), which explores the role of gender symbolism around technology. The main drift of her work has been to reveal how gender symbols tend to change less quickly than do technologies. 10. As an indication of the potential range of topics that might be investigated under a masculinities and technologies banner, the articles submitted for consideration in this collection included work on mountain biking, truck driving, internet chat rooms, and domestic leisure technologies.

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Maria Lohan is a lecturer in sociology in the School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. She has published articles in the area of gender and technologies, with specific reference to masculinities and technologies and feminist methodologies. She is currently researching mens health and men in health care. Wendy Faulkner is a senior lecturer in social and economic research on technology at the Science Studies Unit, Department of Sociology, University of Edinburgh. She has a longstanding involvement in research on gender and technology and on technological innovation. Her current research is on gender in/of engineering.