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Gender, Science, and Technology: Ethical Perspectives 7 th Ordinary Session of COMEST Hebe Vessuri.

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Presentation on theme: "Gender, Science, and Technology: Ethical Perspectives 7 th Ordinary Session of COMEST Hebe Vessuri."— Presentation transcript:

1 Gender, Science, and Technology: Ethical Perspectives 7 th Ordinary Session of COMEST Hebe Vessuri

2 General Overview Issues concerning the intersection of gender, science, and technology have largely been elided in recent philosophical and scientific debates. These issues go considerably beyond the (important) question of women’s participation in science. Within the larger context of science and technology, gender must be considered as a set of roles, ideas, and expectations historically ascribed to men and women; different from biological sex gender is a contingent category. Gender not only divides physical bodies in male and female, but it also separates the social, political and cognitive worlds. It divides the subjective as feminine and the objective as male. The great task of Feminism has been to see “the hidden and silenced subjective dimension of the objective; the rational dimension of the affectionate and the affective dimensions of the rational”. (Fox Keller)

3 Science and technology are not only institutional phenomena and societal drivers, but also sites where gender is negotiated, delineated, and formed through processes of knowledge production. Historically, science has functioned as an instrument of domination to perpetuate the subjugation of women. However, in creating the conditions for problematizing the very notion of gender, science can also be recoded from a decidedly feminist perspective and used to surpass normative assumptions about gender.

4 Key Questions and Concerns 1. Social Organization of Science The participation and role of women in science and technology: the inclusion of women in the production of scientific and technological knowledge can serve as a lever for larger societal transformation and innovation; there is a social responsibility to promote women’s participation in science (science is not gender neutral). Science is a “way of knowing” and its values, among them those concerned to issues of gender, shape this way of knowing. As science has a social character, amongst its priorities must be the search for gender equity and a willingness to engage with feminist and post-feminist critiques of its epistemological biases. Women have the right to benefit from scientific innovation and be protected from its misuses: but how can technology be better disseminated and placed in the hands of the women who need it?

5 Key Questions and Concerns (continued) 2. Social Epistemologies “Gender” is coded into the vast array of those things that we call “technologies;” and conversely, the social construction of “woman” also implies a particular technology of the gendered self. Gender and technology are deeply intertwined and indeed co-construct one another; knowledge, material culture, and know-how, are situated and gendered. Feminist Epistemologies: Whose Knowledge? Whose truth? Whose models of nature, progress, and the future? On the construction of scientific heterodoxy through language, discourse, and practice – what role for women? Gender, Science, and Technology as implicated in a larger socio-historical structure of power, exclusionary practices, and naturalized hierarchies.

6 Gender, Science, Technology and COMEST Mainstreaming gender across COMEST’s axes of research: what does this entail? Assessing what interface exists between Feminist Ethics and the Ethics of Science and Technology as understood by COMEST. The need to rethink the issue of gender from a polyvalent perspective: civil society and social inclusion, institutions and policy-related questions, education and access, new paradigms in the ethics of science and technology, cultural specificity, and biases in knowledge etc. Social and historical pathways of stigma: In many places women are, by and large, still discouraged from scientific careers resulting thus in the perpetuation of “unbalanced” science and unbalanced social knowledge bases. For COMEST, this means reframing gender equity in science as an intrinsically ethical issue, developing grassroots and policy mechanisms, and giving women a more central role on ethics committees across the globe.

7 Gender and Science Ethics Ethical science is inclusive science, one that remains vigilant about how it, consciously or unconsciously, remains bound in gendered, racialized, and hierarchical paradigms of practice and production. In this regard, “diversity” is not simply something that is good to have, but an essential critical tool in assuring that science is conducted ethically and reassessing its historical norms. Science should never be used to justify inequality. Scientists never work in a void. Their “Objectivity” needs critical assessment. Discourses of value-neutrality may serve to fortify hegemonic scientific structures and attitudes that reinforce gender exclusion. Gender-inclusive science ethics demand a review of the historical and institutional arrangements that undergird exclusive practices.

8 Gender and Environmental Ethics Creating resilient adaptation systems depends on consideration of gender and global environmental transformation. The suppression of women and their voices has moved in synchrony with the destruction of nature and adaption efforts need to ensure the well being of the Earth as well as the dignity of women. We need to closely examine the gender-specific impacts of climate change and recognize how gender inequality reduces any given society’s capacity to adapt and be resilient. As long as women are disproportionately vulnerable to and affected by climate change, adaptation to environmental threats will remain imperfect. But we should be careful not to over-determine the vulnerability of women in relation to climate change. Women are not only victims of climate change, but also effective agents of change in relation to both mitigation and adaptation. Women can be key drivers of social and scientific innovation.

9 Gender, Convergence, and Post-Humanism Gender categories are neither fixed nor stable. Gender itself is exploded in the inter-face between technology and “woman.” From convergence comes the potential for cyborgs and other potential hybrids – condensed images of both imagination and social reality- to explain how fundamental contradictions in feminist theory and identity should be conjoined, rather than resolved, similar to the fusion of machine and organism in cyborgs. The idea of the cyborg deconstructs binaries of control and lack of control over the body, object and subject, nature and culture, in ways that are useful in postmodern feminist "thought”, to expose ways that things considered natural, like human bodies, are not, but are constructed by our ideas about them. In a broader sense, the cyborg teaches us that the ethics of nanotechnology must engage how nanotechnology can subjugate women and also emancipate/empower them.

10 Conclusions: Over-arching Issues for COMEST The full gender dimension of science and its impact on society remains under-explored and feminist science studies and feminist ethics have yet to be adequately developed as robust fields of inquiry. Technological change, especially that designed to improve the quality of life in rural areas in developing countries, has been more directed to the tasks that men perform than to the tasks women perform, both in and outside the household. The gender specific nature of women’s and men’s needs and the differential impact of science and technology on the lives of men and women are inadequately recognized by science and technology professionals and citizens. Current structures and processes for decision-making in science and technology for development do not systematically take into account the needs and aspirations of both women and men in a gender-disaggregated manner Ethical issues associated with both the conduct of scientific research and the application of the results of research frequently have a gender dimension which has not been sufficiently recognized or addressed.

11 Conclusions: Over-arching Issues for COMEST How or should the gender issue enter COMEST? Can it be an approach to be integrated in the different actions engaged by the Commission? Is it to be introduced as a special area of reflection? There is a broad range of possibilities open to us which hopefully will be considered and analyzed further. Thank you!


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