Sie sind auf Seite 1von 6


Critical Research on Gender and Information +

Eileen M. Trauth
The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Debra Howcroft
University of Manchester, UK

INTRODUCTION including critical theory (Horkheimer, 1976), critical

operational research (Mingers, 1992), critical eth-
In 1991 Orlikowski and Baroudi published a seminal nography (Forester, 1992), and critical management
paper about the role of epistemological lenses in studies (Alvesson & Willmott, 1996). Despite some
shaping information systems (IS) research. Citing areas of commonality, critical researchers draw
Chua’s (1986) classification of research episte- upon a broad range of social theories. These include,
mologies they went on to describe the way in which for example, the Frankfurt School of critical social
each of three lenses—positivist, interpretive, and theory (Horkheimer, 1976), actor-network theory
critical—influences the conduct of IS research. (Latour, 1991), Marxism (Marx, 1974), feminist
They concluded with the observation that whereas theory (Wajcman, 1991), and the work of Bordieu
positivism dominated the IS research landscape, (1990), Dooyeweerd (1973), Foucault (1979), and
interpretive research was beginning to make an Heidegger (1953).
appearance. They also noted the dearth of critical IS
research. Throughout the 1990s a few papers on
critical research appeared. Myers’ (1997) paper on BACKGROUND
critical ethnography helped to bridge the under-
standing gap between interpretive and critical re- It can be further argued that the topic of gender and
search. Ngwenyama and Lee (1997) used the criti- IS is particularly suitable for critical research insofar
cal lens to guide their approach to examining infor- as it is concerned with power relations and
mation richness theory. Doolin (1998) argued that a underrepresented voices in the context of gender
research approach based on critical theory is needed and information technology use (Kvasny & Trauth,
in order to view information technology within a 2002). The choice of a critical rather than a positivist
broader context of social and political relations. or an interpretive epistemology for research on
However, in the 2000s there has been a significant gender and IS, however, has definite implications for
increase in the focus on critical research, as evi- both the perspective on the topic and the way it is
denced in an increasing number of publications, researched (Howcroft & Trauth, 2004).
conference streams, special issues, and academic When the positivist epistemology is applied to the
electronic networks concerned with discussing criti- topic of gender and IT, the objective is typically to
cal IS1. discover whether and where there are gender dif-
It can be argued that the social nature of activi- ferences. The aim is to uncover gender distinctions,
ties associated with the development, implementa- not to explain or theorize why these distinctions have
tion, and use of IS and the management of people arisen and continue to exist. Examples of this include
who carry out these activities leads naturally to investigations of women’s vs. men’s use (adoption,
considerations of social and political power. This acceptance, etc.) of IT (e.g., Gefen & Straub, 1997)
consideration of power, in turn, encourages critical and women’s participation rate in the IS profession
analysis. In the social sciences the term critical is (e.g., Carayon, Hoonakker, Marchand, & Schwarz,
used to describe a range of related approaches, 2003; Truman & Baroudi, 1994). Further, the theory

Copyright © 2006, Idea Group Inc., distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of IGI is prohibited.
Critical Research on Gender and Information Systems

underlying positivist gender research is often essen- tion is also to advance our understanding of the
tialist whereby observed gender differences are relationship between gender and IT by understand-
understood to arise from the dichotomizing of male/ ing the point of view of the women IT users. Thus,
female roles that, in turn, are assumed to generally an interpretive examination of gender and the IS
derive from bio-psychological differences (Wajcman, profession might explore the influence of national
1991). culture on the social construction of gender identity
Much of this research is predicated on negative as it relates to the IT workforce (Trauth, 1995;
assumptions about women (such as assumptions Trauth, Nielsen, & von Hellens, 2003; Trauth,
that women are inherently less technologically com- Quesenberry, & Yeo, 2005). However, a limitation
petent than men) and is not typically informed by the of the interpretive approach is that the focus is on
gender literature (Adam, Howcroft, & Richardson, understanding the societal influences, not ques-
2004). This type of research is typically motivated by tioning them. It is directed at coping with the
a desire to advance managerial objectives. For dynamics of inequality, not challenging the legiti-
example, it might be to consider gender as a factor macy of underlying social influences or undoing
of production in better harnessing diversity in pursuit them.
of effectiveness and productivity (e.g., Gallivan,
2003; Igbaria & Baroudi, 1995; Igbaria &
Chidambaram, 1997; Venkatesh & Morris, 2000). MAIN THRUST OF THE ARTICLE
Problems of inequality are viewed in terms of wasted
resources, with increased equality being promoted In response, the objective of critical gender and IS
as a means of optimizing efficiency. The main research is to investigate why gender inequality
drawback of this research approach is that the exists. The motivation is to understand and challenge
investigation remains on the surface of observable power relations that reproduce inequality (Kvasny,
and documentable differences. In so doing, it offers in press). Critical social theory, postmodernism, and
an unproblematic treatment of the topic in which the feminist theory (Adam 2002; Adam & Richardson,
observation of differential treatment in the work- 2001; Kvasny, Greenhill, & Trauth, 2005), for ex-
place by gender has a tendency to become the ample, are used to inform the search for the under-
explanation (i.e., that men and women are treated lying causes of gender inequality. Thus, a critical
differently in the IT workplace because they are perspective on gender and IT might concentrate on
different with respect to their relationship to IT and the gendered nature of the workplace and techno-
IT work in some relevant, essential way). Further, logical skills (Wilson, 2002). This moves the re-
by offering only managerialist perspectives, positiv- search away from positivist and interpretive themes
ist gender and IS research privileges one perspec- of profitability, efficiency, effectiveness, and gender
tive over others. Hence, the gendered aspects of IT identity, and towards themes of control, resistance,
use, for example, are not considered from the per- and inequality.
spective of those experiencing it. Critical researchers also embrace the social and
In contrast, interpretive studies of gender and IS political influences on their research, rather than
focus on developing a better understanding of how negate these assumptions and beliefs. They aim to
these gender differences in IT use and IT work have balance their interest in the people being studied with
come about. The objective is to add context to the an awareness of less explicit ideological and struc-
observations about gender and IT. This research tural forces. This is in contrast to what Bhaskar
invokes such theories as social construction (e.g., (1979) has described as the “linguistic fallacy,” the
Nielsen, von Hellens, Greenhill, & Pringle, 1998; claim adopted by many interpretivists that subjects,
Tapia, 2003) or individual differences (Trauth, 2002; concepts, meanings, and accounts of their actions
Trauth, Quesenberry, & Morgan, 2004) in develop- cannot be criticized. In critical research the spotlight
ing theoretical explanations that incorporate social shifts from an exclusive focus on individuals, situa-
influences underlying inequality (e.g., observable tions, and local meaning to the systems of relations,
differences) between the genders. The point of view which make such meanings possible. This is not to
of this research is not just managerialist; the motiva- suggest that experiences are ignored; rather they

Critical Research on Gender and Information Systems

are balanced against issues of an ideological nature ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

that may frame the experiences and ascribe addi- +
tional meaning. This article is from a study funded by a National
The use of critical IS research to study the topic Science Foundation Grant (EIA-0204246).
of gender and IS enables new explanations and
theories to become available. It addresses positivist
limitations by offering alternatives to managerialist REFERENCES
perspectives and theories. It addresses interpretive
limitations by considering power relations, marginal- Adam, A. (2002). Exploring the gender question in
ity, and dominant discourses in the organizational and critical information systems. Journal of Informa-
societal context. The use of critical theories enables tion Technology, 17, 59-67.
the researcher to shed theoretical light on the subtle
ways in which gender inequality is operationalized in Adam, A., Howcroft, D., & Richardson, H. (2004).
technological disciplines in the academy and the A decade of neglect: Reflecting on gender and IS.
workforce. New Technology, Work and Employment, 19(3),
Adam, A., & Richardson, H. (2001). Feminist phi-
CONCLUSION losophy and information systems. Information Sys-
tem Frontiers, 3(2), 143-154.
While the use of a critical epistemology for research
on gender and IS would seem to flow naturally from Alvesson, M., & Willmott, H. (1996). Making
the nature of the topic, there is surprisingly little sense of management: A critical introduction.
critical gender and IS literature, with some notable London: Sage.
exceptions.2 This situation suggests a fertile area for Bhaskar, R. (1979). The possibility of naturalism:
future research. In making the choice of a critical A philosophical critique of the contemporary
epistemology, however, it is important to recognize human sciences. Brighton: Harvester.
the methodological implications of doing so. First,
while there is little critical gender and IS literature, Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Cam-
there is even less empirical critical gender and IS bridge, UK: Polity Press.
research literature. This dearth of empirical research Carayon, P., Hoonakker, P., Marchand, S., &
means that there are few examples in the literature Schwarz, J. (2003). Job characteristics and quality
upon which researchers can currently model their of working life in the IT workforce: The role of
work. Second, whereas positivist research endeav- gender. In E. Trauth (Ed.), Proceedings of the
ors to remove bias from the research account, both ACM SIGMIS Computer Personnel Research
interpretive and critical research acknowledge the Conference (pp. 58-63). New York: ACM Press.
inherent bias in all research. But because of the
agenda of highlighting the power dynamics at work in Chua, W. F. (1986). Radical developments in ac-
organizations, critical research is typically more vul- counting thought. The Accounting Review, 61,
nerable to political issues when attempts are made to 601-632.
publish such work. The diffusion of critical research
Doolin, B. (1998). Information technology as disci-
in IS is being enhanced by critical IS books, critical IS
plinary technology: Being critical in interpretive
conferences, and special issues of journals on critical
research on information systems [Special Issue on
IS, which provide new outlets for the dissemination of
Interpretive Research in Information System]. Jour-
critical IS research. It is hoped that at least some of
nal of Information Technology, 13(4), 301-312.
this emergent research will address the topic of
gender and IT. Dooyeweerd, H. (1973). Introduction. Philosophia
Reformata, 38, 5-16.

Critical Research on Gender and Information Systems

Forester, J. (1992). Critical ethnography: on field- nal of Technology and Human Interaction, 1(1),
work in a Habermasian way. In M. Alvesson & H. 1-18.
Wilmott (Eds.), Critical management studies. Lon-
Kvasny, L., & Trauth, E. M. (2002). The digital
don: Sage.
divide at work and home: Discourses about power
Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and punish: The and underrepresented groups in the information
birth of the prison. Harmondsworth: Penguin. society. In E. Wynn, M. D. Myers, & E. A. Whitley
(Eds.), Global and organizational discourse about
Gallivan, M. (2003). Examining gender differences.
information technology (pp. 273-291). Boston:
In E. Trauth (Ed.), Proceedings of the ACM
Kluwer Academic Publishers.
SIGMIS Computer Personnel Research Confer-
ence (pp. 10-23). New York: ACM Press. Latour, B. (1991). Technology is society made du-
rable, a sociology of monsters. In J. Law (Ed.),
Gefen, D., & Straub, D. W. (1997). Gender differ-
Essays on power, technology and domination
ences in the perception and use of e-mail: An
(pp. 103-131). London: Routledge.
extension of the technology acceptance model. MIS
Quarterly, 21(3), 389-400. Marx, K. (1974). Capital. London: Penguin.
Heidegger, M. (1953). Being and time. New York: Mingers, J. (1992). Technical, practical and critical
State University of New York Press. OR—past, present and future? In M. Alvesson, &
H. Wilmott (Eds.), Critical management studies
Horkheimer, M. (1976). Traditional and critical theory
(pp. 90-112). London: Sage.
(1937). In P. Connerton (Ed.), Critical sociology.
Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin. Myers, M. D. (1997). Critical ethnography in infor-
mation systems. In A. S. Lee, J. Liebenau, & J. I.
Howcroft, D., & Trauth, E. M. (2004). The choice
DeGross (Eds.), Information systems and qualita-
of critical IS research. In Relevant theory and
tive research (pp. 276-300). London: Chapman &
informed practice—Looking forward from a 20
year perspective on IS research (pp. 195-211).
Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Ngwenyama, O. K., & Lee, A. S. (1997). Commu-
nication richness in electronic mail: Critical social
Howcroft, D., & Trauth, E. M. (Eds.). (2005).
theory and the contextuality of meaning. MIS Quar-
Handbook of information systems research: Criti-
terly, 21(2), 145-167.
cal perspectives on information systems design,
development and implementation. Cheltenham, UK: Nielsen, S., von Hellens, L., Greenhill, A., & Pringle,
Edward Elgar. R. (1998, March 26-28). Conceptualising the influ-
ence of cultural and gender factors on students’
Igbaria, M., & Baroudi, J. J. (1995). The impact of
perceptions of IT studies and careers. In Proceed-
job performance evaluations on career development
ings of the 1998 ACM SIGCPR Computer Per-
prospects: An examination of gender differences in
sonnel Research Conference, Boston (pp. 86-95).
the IS workplace. MIS Quarterly, 19, 107-123.
Orlikowski, W. J., & Baroudi, J. J. (1991). Studying
Igbaria, M., & Chidambaram, M. (1997). The im-
IT in organizations: Research approaches and as-
pact of gender on career success of information
sumptions. Information Systems Research, 2(1), 1-
systems professionals. Information Technology &
People, 10(1), 63-86.
Schwandt, T. A. (2001). Dictionary of qualitative
Kvasny, L. (in press). Cultural (re)production of digital
inquiry (2 nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
inequality in a U.S. community technology initiative.
Information, Communication and Society. Tapia, A. H. (2003).
In E. Trauth (Ed.), Proceedings of the ACM SIGMIS
Kvasny, L., Greenhill, A., & Trauth, E. M. (2005).
Computer Personnel Research Conference (pp.
Giving voice to feminist projects in management
64-67). New York: ACM Press.
information systems research. International Jour-

Critical Research on Gender and Information Systems

Trauth, E. M. (1995). Women in Ireland’s informa- KEY TERMS

tion economy: Voices from inside. Eire Ireland, +
30(3), 133-150. Actor-Network Theory (ANT): Developed by
Michel Callon and Bruno Latour, ANT is a social
Trauth, E. M. (2002). Odd girl out: An individual
theory that explains the interrelated connections
differences perspective on women in the IT profes-
between human and nonhuman actors. At the core
sion [Special Issue on Gender and Information Sys-
of this theory is the understanding that technology
tems]. Information Technology and People, 15(2),
and society are mutually constitutive.
Critical Research: Research that critiques the
Trauth, E. M., Nielsen, S. H., & von Hellens, L. A.
status quo through the exposure of what are believed
(2003). Explaining the IT gender gap: Australian
to be deep-seated, structural contradictions within
stories for the new millennium. Journal of Re-
social systems, thereby transforming these alienat-
search and Practice in IT, 35(1), 7-20.
ing and restrictive social conditions (Orlikowski &
Trauth, E. M., Quesenberry, J. L., & Morgan, A. J. Baroudi, 1991, p. 5-6).
(2004, April 22-24). Understanding the under repre-
Feminism: A social, political, economic and
sentation of women in IT: Toward a theory of
intellectual movement that is concerned with remov-
individual differences. In M. Tanniru & S. Weisband
ing the subordination of women. With regard to
(Eds.), Proceedings of the 2004 ACM SIGMIS
research, feminism searches for ways in which
Conference on Computer Personal Research,
women’s positions in life can be made equal with
Tuscon, AZ (pp. 114-119). New York: ACM Press.
those of men (Adam, 2002).
Trauth, E. M., Quesenberry, J. L., & Yeo, B.
Feminist Theory: According to Wajcman
(2005b). The influence of environmental context on
(1991), there is no single “feminist theory” but rather
women in the IT workforce. In M. Gallivan & J. E.
a diversity of perspectives including: cultural femi-
Moore (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2005 ACM
nism, eco-feminism, liberal feminism, postmodernism,
SIGMIS CPR Conference on Computer Person-
radical feminism and social feminism. This body of
nel Research (pp. 24-31). New York: ACM Press.
theories argues that inquiry should be based on the
Truman, G. E., & Baroudi, J. J. (1994). Gender “lived sociopolitical experiences of women” be-
differences in the information systems managerial cause their perspectives afford an alternative view
ranks: An assessment of potential discriminatory of social relations to that of mainstream empirical
practices. MIS Quarterly, 18(2), 129-141. epistemologies (Schwandt, 2001, p. 93).
Venkatesh, V., & Morris, M. (2000). Why don’t Interpretive Research: Research directed at
men ever stop to ask for directions? Gender, social understanding the deeper structure of a phenom-
influence, and their role in technology acceptance enon within its cultural context by exploring the
and usage behavior. MIS Quarterly, 24(1), 115- subjective and intersubjective meanings that people
139. create as they interact with the world around them
(Orlikowski & Baroudi, 1991, p. 5).
Wajcman, J. (1991). Feminism confronts technol-
ogy. Cambridge: Polity Press. Positivist Research: Research that assumes
the existence of a priori fixed relationships within
Webster, F. (2002). Theories of the information
phenomena which are typically investigated with
society (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
structured instruments. The purpose of this research
Wilson, M. (2002). Making nursing visible? Gender, is primarily to test theory (Orlikowski & Baroudi,
technology and the care plan as script. Information 1991, p. 5).
Technology & People, 15(2), 139-158.
Postmodernism: An intellectual movement that
rejects modernist principles and practices. It argues,
instead, that there is no single truth or reality. Since

Critical Research on Gender and Information Systems

multiple versions of truth or reality exist, it argues for devoted to critical research include Data Base
pluralist principles and practices (Webster, 2002, (2001/2002), Journal of Information Tech-
Chap. 9). nology (2002), and Information Systems Jour-
nal and Information Technology & People
(forthcoming). Examples of conferences with
ENDNOTE a critical IS stream include the Critical Man-
agement Studies conference (1999, 2003, 2005),
An example of books is Howcroft and Trauth Critical Research in IS Workshops (2001, 2004),
(2005). Examples of special issues of journals and a critical stream at the Americas Confer-
ence on IS since 2001.