From female computers to male computors: How the brave new world of software development marginalises women

Rana Tassabehji, Nancy Harding, Hugh Lee, Carine Dominguez-Pery

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Abstract

Software development, fundamental to new technologies, is one of the few professions in Europe and the USA from which women are disappearing. In light of the inadequacy of current explanations of what inhibits women’s participation, this study examines the conditions that deter women from remaining in the profession. Its focus is upon forms of masculinity constituted within software development. Using qualitative, interview-based methods located within a poststructural theoretical position, we identified three constitutive ontologies of the person circulating within the profession. The Computor is presumptively male and can merge with the machine although a sub-set, Geeks, cannot demerge from it. The Human, presumptively female, can communicate with people but not the machine. The Ideal-developer claims the best of these for himself. ‘Female’ coders hold ambivalent positions: one cannot be both a female and a coder. These point towards a theory of the body circulating within software development whose norms are unattainable by women. Female bodies are envisaged as ‘flesh’, male bodies as a futuristic merger of body and machine. This Janus-faced theory excludes female developers from practising their profession.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Early online date30 Mar 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Mar 2020

Keywords

  • Software development
  • algorithms
  • Embodiment
  • The body
  • masculinities
  • feminism
  • professions

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