Gender HCI, Feminist HCI, and Post-Colonial Computing

Emma Willard’s Temple of Time (1846)

Whenever I talk about the intersection of software engineering and diversity, I ask people if they know about gender HCI, feminist HCI, or post-colonial computing.  Even when I’m talking to designers and others who know that HCI is the study of human-computer interaction, people usually reply something like “sounds interesting, but never heard of it.”

Which is a shame.  These fields have some great insights about how to create software that works better for everybody.  An overview:

  • Gender HCI focuses on the differences in how different genders interact with computers
  • Feminist HCI is concerned with the design and evaluation of interactive systems that are imbued with sensitivity to the central commitments of feminism—agency, fulfillment, identity and the self, equity, empowerment, diversity, and social justice.
  • Post-colonial Computing centers on the questions of power, authority, legitimacy, participation, and intelligibility in the contexts of cultural encounter, particularly in the context of contemporary globalization

Even though these are all relatively new areas of research, there are some solid – and very actionable – results.  Here are a handful of key papers, along with a few videos.

[For a longer bibliography, also including Sustainable HCI and Humanistic HCI, see the Human-Computer Interaction page that Tammarrian Rogers and I put together for our Open Source Bridge talk on “Supporting Diversity with a New Approach to Software”.]

Gender HCI

Dr. Margaret Burnett’s Open Lecture from the IT University of Copenhagen.

Burnett, Margaret, Simone Stumpf, Jamie Macbeth, Stephann Makri, Laura Beckwith, Irwin Kwan, Anicia Peters, and William Jernigan. “GenderMag: A method for evaluating software’s gender inclusiveness.” Interacting with Computers (2016): iwv046.   An approach for structured walkthroughs based on five facets of gender difference that Dr. Burnett and her collaborators have identified over the last decade of research (motivation, information processing styles, computer self-efficacy, risk aversion, tinkering).  “The users who tend to be best supported by problem-solving software tend to be those best represented in software development teams (e.g. relatively young, able-bodied, males), with other users’ perspectives often over-looked.”

Burnett, Margaret, Anicia Peters, Charles Hill, and Noha Elarief. “Finding Gender-Inclusiveness Software Issues with GenderMag: A Field Investigation.Proc. CHI. ACM, New York, NY, USA (2016).  A good companion piece, with three real-world case-studies applying the method.  “The results were that, using GenderMag to evaluate software, these software practitioners identified a surprisingly high number of gender-inclusiveness issues: 25% of the software features they evaluated had gender-inclusiveness issues.”
Williams, Gayna. “Are you sure your software is gender-neutral?.” interactions 21.1 (2014): 36-39.  As well as looking at some of the reasons for gender bias in software, suggestions for free and low-cost ways of improving the situation.
Most work to date on Gender HCI has used a simple binary gender model.  Gopinaath Kannabiran’s Where are all the queers? looks at some of the implications of this.

Feminist HCI

Bardzell, Shaowen. “Feminist HCI: taking stock and outlining an agenda for design.” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 1301-1310. ACM, 2010.   Feminist HCI looks at interactive systems “that are imbued with sensitivity to the central commitments of feminism — agency, fulfillment, identity and the self, equity, empowerment, diversity, and social justice” and “entails critical perspectives that could help reveal unspoken values within HCI’s dominant research and design paradigms and underpin the development of new approaches, methods and design variations”

Casey Fiesler at CHI16
(the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems)

Fiesler, Casey, Shannon Morrison, and Amy S. Bruckman. “An Archive of Their Own: A Case Study of Feminist HCI and Values in Design.” In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 2574-2585. ACM, 2016.  Casey Fiesler has also written a short overview.

Dimond, Jill P. “Feminist HCI for real: Designing technology in support of a social movement.” PhD dissertation., Georgia Institute of Technology, 2012.  Looks at Hollaback (a movement to end street harassment) through a feminist HCI lens.  One key insight: “evidence that the storytelling platform helps participants fundamentally shift their cognitive and emotional orientation towards their experience and informs what activists do on the ground.”

Emma Willard's Temple of TimeKlein, Lauren. “Feminist Data Visualization: Rethinking the Archive, Reshaping the Field”. Unpublished monograph, described in Dave DeCamp’s blog post, describing a 2015 presentation at Northeastern University focusing on three 19th-century female “data visualizers” including Emma Willard. “What alternative histories emerge when we rethink the archive of data visualization? … Instead of focusing only on the legibility of visualizations for data, argument, or evidence, Klein considers alternative means for creating, employing, and interpreting data visualizations.”

Haimson, Oliver L., and Gillian R. Hayes. “Towards Trans Inclusion in Feminist HCI.” From Feminism and Feminist Approaches in Social Computing, 2014.

Post-colonial Computing

Irani, Lilly, Janet Vertesi, Paul Dourish, Kavita Philip, and Rebecca E. Grinter. “Postcolonial computing: a lens on design and development.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, 2010.  “Postcolonial computing is … an alternative sensibility to the process of design and analysis. It asserts a series of questions and concerns inspired by the conditions of postcoloniality but relevant to any design project.  The authors suggest four shifts in approach: generative models of culture, development as a historical program, uneven economic relations, and cultural epistemologies.

ACM: Residual Mobilities: Infrastructural Displacement and Post-Colonial Computing in Bangladesh

Ahmed, Syed Ishtiaque, Nusrat Jahan Mim, and Steven J. Jackson. “Residual mobilities: infrastructural displacement and post-colonial computing in Bangladesh.” In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 437-446. ACM, 2015. Based on a field study among populations displaced by a development project in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the authors argue that “different and heretofore residual experiences of mobility must also be accounted for in post-colonial and other marginal computing environments” and document “four forms of infrastructural experience — dispossession, reconstitution, collaboration, and repair — that characterize real-world engagements with infrastructure in such settings”

Philip, Kavita, Lilly Irani, and Paul Dourish. “Postcolonial computing a tactical survey.” Science, Technology & Human Values 37, no. 1 (2012): 3-29. Tactics for “rereading, rewriting, or reimagining” hegemonic forms of computing.


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