Book title: Gendered by Design? Information Technology and Office Systems

Taylor and Francis, 1993, ISBN 0-7484-0092-3

Andrew Dillon

This item is not the definitive copy. Please use the following citation when referencing this material: Dillon, A. (1998) Review of Weckert and Adeney's Computer and Information Ethics. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 49(9), 861.

The present volume, the latest in the Gender and Society series, examines the design and use of information technology from a feminist perspective. Consisting of 11 chapters and an introduction, the book is divided into 4 major sections which give an indication of the coverage of its contents: Context and overview; Gender perspectives in system development; Gender and clerical work; and Initiatives in Europe and Scandinavia; which move from the theoretical to the practical in a smooth flow. The authors (both male and female) are drawn mainly from the UK, Denmark and Italy, though a significant proportion are from a fairly small number of European universities (UMIST, Sheffield Hallam, Milan and Aarhus) who have worked jointly on projects over several years.

While the title of the book may immediately turn off a large number of male readers (presumably the largest consumers of technology books), it would be totally misleading to react to this text with masculinist dismissal. More than the title suggests, this book contains many a sharp analysis of the politics of system design, not purely in gender terms but in broader sociological and historical ones. From the outset we are introduced to various perspectives on the broad philosophy that is termed user-centered system design, and the reader who is convinced that the term merely implies interest in users (an all-too unfortunate interpretation by both the well-meaning and the cynical) will gain a more informed view here of the variety of theoretical positions included under this heading.

Major emphasis is placed on the manner in which technological developments represent an extension of scientific perspectives on work, here seen as short-sighted and yes, male-centered. while this leaves much room for argument, and I would have loved to have seen a serious counter-argument included in the book, the statistics and examples included show that beyond doubt, information technology and the social systems in which it finds use and meaning, demand more than analysis at the traditional ergonomics levels of cognition and physiology to ensure acceptability. Certainly there are arguments that jar, not least (for me) the treatment of HCI and the socio-technical perspectives of HUSAT and Mumford which I find unconvincing as critiques. Neither will many ergonomists warm to the imported rhetoric of feminist discourse on science which denigrates rationalism as a masculine attempt to equate irrationality with the feminine, but the subject matter of the book is bound to challenge or else it would hardly be worthy of publication. The present volume certainly is worthy, and annoyance is a small price to pay for some of the insights that are gained.

The present volume would make an interesting addition to many courses on systems design and HCI, and one can relish the prospects of lively discourse it would engender in a graduate class in human factors. The authors are uniformly insightful and the editors have done a useful job in drawing the various strands together. As we look forward to the development of a broader conceptualisation of user-centered design, this book makes a unique contribution and should be read widely.