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Panel Opens Kirkland Project 2003-2004 Series

"Technology, Science and Democracy: What's at Stake?"

By Caroline O'Shea  |  Contact Sharon Rippey 315-859-4672
Posted September 12, 2003
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The Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture began its 2003-2004 series, "Technology, Science and Democracy: What's at Stake?" with a panel discussion on September 10. Three Hamilton faculty from different disciplines (Professor of Computer Science Stuart Hirshfield, Professor of Classics Carl Rubino, and Professor of Anthropology Bonnie Urciuoli) each shared their perspective and their work on the interaction of technology and society.

Hirshfield began the panel discussion with a talk titled "If Women Designed Computers...", though he admitted that he was not sure how to complete that statement. Instead, Hirshfield discussed the ongoing problem of underrepresented constituencies in computer science, particularly women, the group that is most obviously not succeeding or even enrolling in computer science courses in college. He described many of the reasons why women may be uninterested or unconfident about computer sciences - the "artifactual nature" of the work, the isolated activity it entails, its "nerd culture", and their lower level of exposure to computer science. Hirshfield said that often men may see computers or technology as toys, whereas women see them primarily as tools for accomplishing a task. He concluded by saying that computer science in particular, and technology in general, are different from other disciplines in that they have an already realized potential to affect society, and the people who are involved in the discipline will determine the impact it will have.

Rubino continued the discussion with "Whose Science, Whose Power?" in which he addressed the problems that the practice and traditions of science can have in society. The concept of absolute certainty that science depends upon can engender dangerous delusions about humans' ability to control nature and other people.  This concept of certainty also allows some cultures, particularly Western ones, to presume that they are able to hold power over other, less scientific cultures and control their behavior.  Rubino also discussed the under representation of women and minorities at the highest levels of scientific achievement, which he said can be attributed to the perpetuation of the culture of science by European males.

Urciuoli spoke on"American Technologies of Self: Democracy and Self-Management." She discussed how the "master narratives" of American culture create many of the ideas described by Professors Hirshfield and Rubino. For example, the notion of technology as having intrinsic value beyond its uses (e.g. Hirshfield's discussion of men seeing computers as toys) is an American master narrative. Urciuoli also discussed how technology and science have become embedded into American life, with "technologies of self" that people use to improve their lives and make them ideal citizens, and "technologies of power" that determine who is in charge.

Professor of Women's Studies Vivyan Adair responded to the speakers' presentations by asking what can be done to change some of the problems they addressed, including a discussion of whether it is more effective to first place women into the culture and field of science, or to begin by fundamentally change its epistemology.

"Technology, Science and Democracy: What's at Stake?" continues on September 25 with another panel discussion, "Building Communities across the Digital Divide", featuring Mary Bernadine Dias '98, David Hakken, Ellen McDermott and Marianne Petit. For more information on this and other upcoming events, visit the Kirkland Project website.

This story was written by Caroline O'Shea '07.

Professor of Classics Carl Rubino

Professor of Women's Studies Vivyan Adair

Professor of Anthropology Bonnie Urciuoli and Professor Rubino

Professor of Computer Science Stuart Hirshfield and Professor Urciuoli

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