Saturday, October 16, 2004

for 18 October

1.
From last week, based on p. 158, pgh. 2 of Orr: How does the subjective concept of "productive" work relate to the concept of skill in an occupation, and how does the perception of relative "productivity" determine the status of the worker? Apply these questions to the women working as computers or human calculators described in the Light article and alluded to by Tympas.

2.
Issue of fact: do we understand the history of how women came to replace men as clerical workers (for example, as personal secretaries) in the early twentieth century? What is the connection of computers to the traditional information worker roles of women as governesses, companions to wealthy matrons, school teachers, telephone operators (this is for Greg to answer), and librarians (traditional only from the inception of Dewey's Library program at Columbia in the late 1880s)?

3.
Light brings forward plenty of evidence that the labor of the WACS on early digital computers was highly regimented in the development phase, then hidden deliberately when the invention was publicized after World War II. Based just on the article, do we know enough to assert that the reason for hiding the women was sexist absolutism, a desire to bury the fact of women's contribution to the computer so as not to disturb the social relations of 1946, or were there issues of control of information, trust, and maintenance of subordination that the sexism played into? Consider how the identity politics of the late 1960s to the present have factored into the legal gains made by workers from the Wagner Act of the late 1930s to the cost of living adjustment contracts of the 1960s.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Questions, this week's three

  1. Has anything changed? (Think of this asked in the most despairing tone of voice imaginable.)

  2. Women's work = devalued work; devalued work is given to women. Does one break the cycle more easily by re-valuing women, or by re-valuing work independent of who performs it?

  3. Creditably, Margolis and Fisher focus on what we have to do for girls and young women to keep them in high-tech fields. This skates perilously close to victim-blaming, however, as Light's article amply demonstrates; there's really only so far women can go faced with a deeply hostile and dismissive atmosphere. So what do men have to do, hm? And how does anyone convince them to do it?

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

tympas/light/margolis et al questions

Before I get started, does anyone remember the movie Real Genius? The guys are all building super high-tech laser crap and making ice out of unstable gases in their free time and the woman in the movie's big accomplishment is building some sort of sled. Well, that and seducing a minor. Still... a fine film.

1. Light writes that hardware design was considered to be a man's job, while software programming was woman's work. Working on the assumption that computer science is now a solidly masculinized field, how and why did women lose their niche in programming?

2. Among participants in the Margolis et. al. study, male and female students reported different ways of relating to computers and different visions of what it was possible to do with them. What are the implications of the traditional ways of being a computer scientist? What would change about the field if the dominant 'ways of being' changed? What is specifically masculine about those ways of being? What is not?

3. Tympas is critical of Light, writing that by focusing her study on the mental labor of a handful of women as opposed to the manual labor of many women and men, she reproduces traditional hierarchies in the division of labor. Is his criticism valid? Why or why not?

tympas/light/margolis et al questions

Before I get started, does anyone remember the movie Real Genius? The guys are all building super high-tech laser crap and making ice out of unstable gases in their free time and the woman in the movie's big accomplishment is building some sort of sled. Well, that and seducing a minor. Still... a fine film.

1. Light writes that hardware design was considered to be a man's job, while software programming was woman's work. Working on the assumption that computer science is now a solidly masculinized field, how and why did women lose their niche in programming?

2. Among participants in the Margolis et. al. study, male and female students reported different ways of relating to computers and different visions of what it was possible to do with them. What are the implications of the traditional ways of being a computer scientist? What would change about the field if the dominant 'ways of being' changed? What is specifically masculine about those ways of being? What is not?

3. Tympas is critical of Light, writing that by focusing her study on the mental labor of a handful of women as opposed to the manual labor of many women and men, she reproduces traditional hierarchies in the division of labor. Is his criticism valid? Why or why not?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Questions about Talk and machines

1. Is Orr's treatment of talk and discourse and narrative undertheorized? He writes about the place of discourse and narrative, of storytelling, to these technicians, yet he ignores a lot of research on discursive practices and narratology. How might this effect his conclusions? How does it effect his treatment of the place of discourse in the work environment?

2. While it is clear that Orr refers back to Geertz's work, how does he envision his ethnographic processes within the context of these methodologies? How does he approach fieldnotes? What method of data (audio tape) transcription does he use? Why? While he is taking his fieldnotes, what interactions between his subjects does he miss? Why didn't he take post-field work interviews with the participants? What cognitive processes and/or thoughts did he miss because they weren't articulated?

3. "white-hatted wrench-slingers" (160). This notion of the technicians as rescuers reminded me of a great ethnographic study by Ann Dyson - Writing Superheroes - about early elementary students who construct themselves and their place in the classroom community by writing and acting out "stories" they write about superheroes (X-Men, Ninja Turtles, etc). The children, like these technicians, position themselves within their world in a way that often valorizes them.

I guess this isn't really a question as much as a comment. Or maybe it is part of a question. Does this indicate some sort of human need to be important within the context of one's life? Is it a way to find power in a world that renders us powerless? Are these workers able to demonstrate (at least to themselves) that they are more than just cogs in the corporate machine?

Temps

I know the Temps book comes later in the semester, but y'all might find this article at the washingtonpost.com interesting.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22773-2004Oct10.html

Orr post

1.
My 1969 American Heritage dictionary defines Ethnography as 1. Descriptive anthropology of technologically primitive societies; 2. Ethnology. Ethnology is defined as "the anthropological study of socio-economic systems and cultural heritage, especially of cultural origins and of factors affecting cultural growth and change, in technologically primitive societies." If we apply this non-PC definition, which clearly identifies some societies as "technologically primitive," to Orr's technicians, can they be said to be "primitive," either technologically or otherwise? Are they primitive today, in 2004, compared to when the research was done in the late 1980s? What is the position of technician jobs in terms of industrial production?

2.
Orr invokes Levi-Strauss's concept of the Bricoleur, a small town French handyman, as a model for the diagnostic smarts displayed by his technicians. Orr calls bricolage "the reflective manipulation of a closed set of resources to accomplish some purpose." Is this a good or useful analogy? And if so, so what?

3.
In the chapter "Warranted and other conclusions," Orr mentions in passing the management threat of "deskilling" jobs, but suggests that the "occupational community" in the case of the technicians possesses sufficient expertise and social cohesion to resist deskilling and the associated loss of control and status. Are they strong enough to resist other threats--discrimination in hiring, layoffs, cuts in pay, cuts in benefits, retraining, drug testing, background checks by Homeland Security?

Extra, based on p. 158, pgh. 2:
Orr argues convincingly for ethnographic study of all types of skilled practice, and seems to have a clear concept of how one may find skilled practice at play in the most "unskilled" or low-status occupations. How does the subjective concept of "productive" work relate to the concept of skill in an occupation, and how does the perception of relative "productivity" determine the status of the worker?