New Gender Relations in the Transforming IT-Industry of Malaysia

New Gender Relations in the Transforming IT-Industry of Malaysia

Ulf Mellström (Luleå University of Technology, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-813-5.ch002
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Abstract

This chapter investigates how and why computer science in Malaysia is dominated by women. Drawing on recent critical interventions in gender and technology studies the paper aims at opening up for more culturally situated analyses of the gendering of technology or the technology of gendering with the Malaysian case exemplifying the core of the argument. The paper argues along four different strands of critical thought: (1) A critique of the ‘black-boxing’ of gender in gender and technology studies; (2) A critique of the Anglo-centric bias of gender and technology studies advocating more of context sensitivity and focus on the cultural embeddedness of gender and technology relations; (3) In line with that, also paying more attention to spatial practices and body politics in regard to race, class, and gender in gender and technology relations; 4. A critique of ‘western’ positional notions of gender configurations and opening up for more fluid constructions of gender identity including the many crossovers between relational and positional definitions of femininity and masculinity.
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Introduction

This article addresses an old concern about the inclusion of women in science and engineering. Women’s participation in science and engineering varies a good deal around the globe, but there still seems to exist, as Lagesen (2005, p. 19) states, a lingering notion of an all-encompassing masculine culture of science and engineering transcending time and space. By using empirical data from Malaysia in the context of computer science this paper generally aims at opening up for more culturally situated analyses of the gendering of technology that serve to undermine any notion of a global masculine culture of science and engineering that transcends cultural and national differences. Inspired by recent critical interventions and new analytical openings in gender and technology studies, (cf. Landström 2007, Lagesen 2005, 2007a, 2007b, Rommes 2007, Bray 2007) this paper points to the Anglo-centric Western bias of gender and technology studies and argues for cross-cultural work and, intersectional understandings including race, class, age, and sexuality. With the Malaysian case exemplifying the core of the argument, I argue more specifically that as a consequence of a broader intersectional framework gender and technology studies need to investigate configurations of masculinity and femininity in a cross-cultural perspective more thoroughly. The focus in this article will stay on the relational dependence of male and female categorisations in gender relations, underlining that gender and technology relations are always deeply embedded in cultural contexts shaping the use, design and production of technologies and its co-production of gender and technology. In this it draws on earlier closely related work (Lagesen 2005, 2007b) but it also differs in focus in so far that my aim is to explicitly draw in aspects of Malaysian culture, society, and history in relation to my empirical data to illustrate the cultural embeddedness of gender and technology relations. However, the Malaysian situation within computer science is in this paper primarily used as an example to highlight how an intersectional analysis take form rather than a full-fledged critical analysis of the multifaceted and divergent power dimensions of the Malaysian society.

The article has three substantive parts. I will first present the so called “woman problem” (Lagesen 2005) in gender and technology studies and contemporary critical thought in feminist technology studies, invoking the theoretical tenets that possibly succeed this critique and how this feeds into the Malaysian situation. Secondly, I will present my case in terms of material, method, and the cultural specificities of computer science in Malaysia. Thirdly, a discussion of the empirical case follows in which I argue that the gender relations of computer in Malaysia must to be understood in relation to five strands of intersecting explanations (1) Quotas, ethnicity, and gender; (2) A situated body politics; (3) Techno-optimism and techno-nationalism; (4) Under achieving men; and (5) A critical mass of women and a shortage of computer professionals.

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