Approaches to Conceptualizing Gender

Approaches to Conceptualizing Gender

Darryl Coulthard (Deakin University, Australia) and Tanya Castletan (Deakin University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch006
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When people refer to gender issues in information systems, they draw on an implicit understanding of what this means, but may be unaware of the history of the concept of gender or the theoretical debates that surround its development. A thorough understanding of the conceptual and theoretical issues can, however, add much to the quality of research on the gender patterns that are observed in attitudes to and usage of information technologies and in organisational practices. Similarly, a good conceptual understanding will benefit those seeking to launch practical initiatives, including increasing women’s access to and involvement with information technology. By building on the work of others, especially in the fields of psychology, sociology, women’s studies, and political theory, information-systems researchers will avoid the conceptual pitfalls into which others have fallen. The term gender usually refers to the socially acquired characteristics of men and women. It is distinguished from sex, which has come to be defined as biological characteristics. We now conventionally use the term gender as a variable in empirical research, although this is simply dichotomised into male or female and thus is really used as a proxy for sex. This distinction between sex and gender arose as a result of debates about gender issues in Western society generally, and with the development of feminist thought in the late 20th century, gender is now widely acknowledged as a key structural principle in society and as a topic of study in its own right (Chafetz, 1997; Tong, 1989; Weedon, 1999). In this article, we briefly discuss the issues underpinning the concept of gender and how this concept has developed.

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