Feminist Technology

Feminist technology is not related to one specific community of practice, but it has been a field of research and has led to and is still leading to practices that are very valuable in the context of sustainable tech.

First of all, it has allowed a broadening of what is commonly understood as technology, and a questioning of positive and negative value associated with so-called high- and low-tech. Ursula Le Guin captures this beautifully in ‘A rant on technology’ 1:

"[...] technology is how a society copes with physical reality: how people get and keep and cook food, how they clothe themselves, what their power sources are Perhaps very ethereal people aren't interested in these mundane, bodily matters, but I'm fascinated by them, and I think most of my readers are too. Technology is the active human interface with the material world. But the word is consistently misused to mean only the enormously complex and specialised technologies of the past few decades, supported by massive exploitation both of natural and human resources." 2

Judy Wacjman, back in the 90s, described this shift in the association of technology with so-called ‘high technology’. In Technofeminism, she writes how "male machines" replaced "female fabrics" and tech became more and more associated with masculinity, associated with industrial, governmental, and militaristic practices 3. This is something that is now more and more reconsidered, also from a decolonial perspective. Western high-tech is no longer seen as universal, beneficial to all.

There is not one single definition of feminist technology, Deborah Johnson argues, because there are many feminisms 4. There are several elements in feminist thought that are deeply connected to it, and which will come back in the other glossary entries 5, 6:

  • An embodied view of technology and the people making use of it, considering the materiality of hardware and software,
  • An emphasis on technology being shaped by, and part of social practices,
  • Making hidden labour and labour conditions visible,
  • Approaching the everyday as a place of political struggle, the personal as the political,
  • Asking who benefits? Looking at who a technology serves and who it harms and excludes,
  • Telling stories of power and unmasking false claims of universality: sociologist Susan Leigh Star proposes starting with the zero point; the point in between two dichotomies, with positions that do not fit the standard, thereby entering a high tension zone, which gives insight into the standardized aspects of networks that are stable to most, yet violent to some and stabilized by the invisible work of others. 7
  • This point of departure allows us to ask how it could be otherwise. There is nothing inevitable about any science or technology.

  1. Ursula K. Le Guin. 2004. A Rant About 'Technology'. http://www.ursulakleguinarchive.com/Note-Technology.html.
  2. Ursula K. Le Guin. 2004. A Rant About 'Technology'. [http://www.ursulakleguinarchive.com/Note-Technology.html] (http://www.ursulakleguinarchive.com/Note-Technology.html)
  3. Judy Wacjman. 2004. Technofeminism. Oxford: Polity Press.
  4. Deborah G. Johnson. 2010. Sorting out the question of feminist technology. In Linda L. Layne, Sharra Louise Vostral & Kate Boyer (eds.), Feminist Technology. University of Illinois Press, pp. 21-58.
  5. A Feminist Server Manifesto 0.01. 2014. https://areyoubeingserved.constantvzw.org/Summit_afterlife.xhtml
  6. Susan Leigh Star. 1990. Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On being Allergic to Onions. The Sociological Review. 38, pp. 26-56.
  7. Susan Leigh Star. 1990. Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On being Allergic to Onions. The Sociological Review. 38, pp. 26-56.