Agential Realism – Something for Gender and IT Research?

Document type: Conference Presentations
Peer reviewed: Yes
Author(s): Christina Mörtberg, Christina Björkman, Pirjo Elovaara
Title: Agential Realism – Something for Gender and IT Research?
Conference name: The 3rd Christina Conference on Women´s Studies/The 4th European
Year: 2007
City: Helsinki
Organization: Blekinge Institute of Technology
Department: School of Technoculture, Humanities and Planning (Sektionen för teknokultur, humaniora och samhällsbyggnad)
School of Technoculture, Humanities and Planning S-371 79 Karlskrona
+46 455 38 50 00
Authors e-mail:,,
Language: English
Abstract: People´s everyday lives have changed and are continuously changing depending on the technologically mediated world we live in. Feminist researchers have explored the relationships between gender and information technology (IT), the gendering of IT and the co-construction of gender and IT. This research has contributed to and created critical approaches towards pluralistic understandings of the relationships between gender and (information) technology. There exists a body of knowledge concerning not only gender, but also epistemological and ontological issues. However, explorations are ongoing processes in order to “encourage us to do this differently.” (Schneider 2005:21)

In this exploratory paper we will use Karen Barad’s agential realism together with Haraway’s diffraction to discuss systems development, the importance of materiality and its role in the development of IT-systems. While diffraction maps “where the effects of differences appear” (Haraway 1992:300), agential realism invites us to discuss systems development as material-discursive practices. The focus is moved from interactions between humans/non-humans to intra-actions (togetherness) in practices/doings/actions.

We address the following questions: Does the approach of agential realism with intra-actions, apparatuses, and cuts help to find new fruitful understandings of gender and IT? Does the approach help feminist researchers in developing future directions of gender and IT, creating alternatives and acting accountably in the world of becoming, where agency remains at the heart of feminist practices?

We are here in particular concerned with the design and construction of IT-systems and artefacts. In building these, different actors and practices can be involved, such as for example systems developers, programmers, specifications, design models, operating systems, programming languages, computers, protocols, managers, time, money, workplace culture, division of labour, gender and so on. In specific performances of material-discursive practices these are included or excluded. Those included constitute the specific apparatus involved in boundary-making in material-discursive practices. With a diffracted reading of various development practices we will map the chosen apparatus and how it comes to participate in and enact a particular world of becoming. Due to the particular apparatus, categories and classifications, such as subjects and objects, experts and non-experts, gender, information technology etc. are constituted. Consequently, what is included or excluded in the enactment orders the world differently since
different realities (worlds) are sedimented out of particular practices/doings/actions. Being accountable means to ask if we need other kinds of practices and enactments, with new configurations of agency that work for change?

Subject: Technoscience Studies\General
Keywords: agential realism, gender reserach, IT