Ryan  Burns, phd
December 2, 2012

Critical Interventions into Gender and the Geoweb

I’m pleased to announce that for the 2013 AAG in Los Angeles, Monica Stephens and I organized a panel that will address questions about the relationship between gender and the geoweb. This is a topic that hasn’t yet received much attention despite its incredible importance. We hope to help this conversation commence and set the stage for future work in this area. Below is the description of the panel. I’ll be serving as discussant for the panel. Monica will be a panelist, and we also have Melissa Gilbert, Michele Masucci, and Brent Hecht.

While writing the panel description, Monica and I realized that there can be two ways to ask the question of “gender and the geoweb”, and both are important to consider. The first asks about the inequalities between men and women in this emerging set of technologies. This takes the idea of “gender” as obvious and existing a priori our thinking it. In contrast, we could, borrowing from post-structuralist theory, ask how the geoweb constructs notions of gender. How, for instance, do we come to understand “men” and “women” in the geoweb? In our panel we hope to strike a balance between these two approaches. Additionally, we can also take feminist theorizations of technology, and explore the different ways these might contribute to an understanding of the geoweb. In other words, speaking for myself (not for Monica, unless of course she approves!), “gender and the geoweb” need not necessarily take gender as its object of study - it can look at knowledge politics, marginalization, global political economy of geoweb technologies (e.g., call centers, labor, ‘slum mapping’, etc), and critiques of positionality. I’ve written on this topic in the past.

With that introduction, here’s our panel description:

Amidst the hype surrounding the emergent geoweb, many are beginning to identify the uneven geographies created by technological change. Empirical studies have noted that not only do producers of online data most often report a ‘male’ gender, but the knowledges represented in the geoweb may have a masculinist bias. Many geoweb applications have been developed that are reconfiguring the ways we think about privacy, anonymity, information contribution, social relationships and technology development. These reconfigurations have uneven and gendered implications, and raise questions about the broader relationship between society and the geoweb.> There are multiple reasons to consider gender in studies of the geoweb. First, feminist theorists have usefully explored the relationships between gender, knowledge politics, difference, and technology, with recent feminist contributions to critical GIS being particularly illuminating in this regard. Engaging this line of thought will help explore new gender inequalities in the geoweb while placing them in a broader context. Second, as more disparities are revealed through empirical studies, gender is slowly being acknowledged as a site of significant inequality. Gender-related concerns may vary widely, from privacy to the construction of gender, but remain important to engage and account for in our theorizations of the geoweb. Third, as online social relations supplement or replace material interactions, gender is sometimes hidden and sometimes exacerbated behind the anonymity of the internet. Analyzing and theorizing gender relations in the geoweb raises necessary questions of how we can open up spaces for activism, for advocating more equality, and for shaping the geoweb’s development.

In conjunction with the “Geo/Code 2013: Geoweb, Big Data, and Society” symposium, we seek panelists that explore the relationship between gender and the geoweb. Questions of particular interest would include - but are not limited to - theoretical and empirical studies of these questions:

  • How does the geoweb work to construct, propagate, or break down notions of ‘gender’?
  • How do privacy concerns vary across genders, and how should institutional protections be established to account for differences?
  • How can we characterize and explain the gendered divisions of geoweb labor?
  • In what ways have women - and people of other forms of difference -been ‘written out’ of the geoweb (Bimber 2000)? Are those changing, and why?
  • How is male privilege reproduced and challenged in the geoweb?
  • What contributions from feminist studies of technology, including feminist GIS, can be engaged to understand the geoweb, in particular its embedded knowledge and gender politics?>
  • Conversely, in what ways does the geoweb ‘speak back’ to feminist conceptualizations of technology?>
  • What opportunities and options exist for geoweb scholars, programmers, developers, and mappers to create a more egalitarian geoweb? How can we create spaces for collective action to effect positive change on this technology?
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