Under Construction: The application of a Feminist Sociology to Information Systems Design

Jerome McDonough. Under Construction: The application of a Feminist Sociology to Information Systems Design. Ph.D. Dissertation. Advisor: Ray R. Larson. University of California, Berkeley 2000.


The advent of new forms of graphical computer-mediated communication has created new venues for the presentation of self. Through ethnographic study of the designers and users of two software packages, a public access virtual reality system and a widely used World Wide Web browser, this research explores software designers' influence on users' online identity performances. Software design is shown to be a process both affected by and potentially constitutive of power imbalances within the society in which it is created and used. The two cases examined demonstrate that software designers run a great risk of contributing to the maintenance of hegemonic conceptions of masculinity which prevail within the subculture of software engineers in the society in which their products are used. This is accomplished through inscribing an ideal user within software products that conforms to these hegemonic conceptions. Possible means of minimizing the software engineering profession's contribution to the maintenance of inequitable distribution of power are discussed, including efforts to alter the processes by which software engineers are educated and socialized into their profession, and intervening in the relationship between software engineers and capital through wider adoption of the open source model of software design and a reform of the application of intellectual property law to software.

Last updated:

September 20, 2016