Pacey (1983). Chapter 6 – Women and Wider Values. (The Culture of Technology.)

Pacey, A. (1983). Chapter 6 – Women and Wider Values. In The Culture of Technology (pp. 97–119). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

[Economic value overshadows family value …]

“The irony is that where agricultural development is planned by governments, this is usually with the aim of directing more farm produce into the market economy. Such policies result in a degree of economic growth, but achieve this by encouraging male farmers with their cash crops — [page break] groundnuts, coffee, cotton — while usually offering no support at all to the female farmers who grow their families’ food.” (p 99-100)

[Example of values embedded in a technology …]

“One might even argue that agriculture is an instance of technology which takes different forms according to the values built into it.” (p 100)

[Money and status-seeking …]

“The reason men are attracted to mechanized jobs may be to do with the higher productivity and earnings associated with them, but seems also to be partly due to the way machines convey prestige.” (p 100)

[“TABLE 5 – Three sets of values involved in the practice of technology” (p 102) …]

Virtuosity values Economic values User or need values
Exemplars adventurers (Odysseus), smiths, warriors merchants, working men women (Athene, Penelope)
Applications tractor driving cash cropping gardening
high technology (aerospace, weapons) production engineering craft work, appropriate technology
food technology cooking, handmilling
heart transplant surgery drug manufacture childcare, primary health work, nursing
Priorities pursuit of the technically sweet pursuit of profit maintenance, subsistence
mastering natural forces managing a workforce care for people, care for nature
extending frontiers economic growth stability
View of technology construction for prestige value construction, production for exchange value management of process: use value
Typical evidence of progress improving performance increasing GNP falling infant mortality
Attitude to risk risk as challenge; offset by fixes risk balanced by potential gain risk avoidance and prevention
Views of creativity innovative, adventuring, unrestrained equated with enterprise tempered by responsibility

[Cost versus value; certain activities are ignored because of how they are devalued …]

“Economists can certainly tell us what it cost to land a man on the moon in 1969, but they cannot say whether this was worth it. That is judged on a different basis, and according to virtuosity values. Economists are equally at a loss when assessing the unpaid work of women in the home, again because different values are involved — need or user values. Thus a proportion of women’s work is usually entirely omitted from overall estimates of output, such as gross national product (GNP); ‘domestic work is not considered as ‘real’ work because it has only private use value but no exchange value’.11” (p 103)

[Defining technologies in particular ways influences their perceived value …]

“Nearly all women’s work, indeed, falls within the usual definition of technology. What excludes it from recognition is not only the simplicity of the equipment used, but the fact that it implies a different concept of what technology is about. Construction and the conquest of nature are not glorified, and there is little to notice in the way of technological virtuosity.” (p 104)

[Diversity of human values; challenge existing values …]

“A profound contribution that could be made toward creativity in science and technology would be to encourage the involvement of women in this field at all levels. Not, I must add, as imitation men, copying all the absurdness of men, but to challenge and counteract the male values built into the technology.18” (p 107)

[Alienation through the focus on technology rather than human values …]

“Part of the modern problem with technology may simply be that many people have become detached from direct responsibilities … but there are also historical changes which may have reinforced this alienating trend. The ideal of pure science and its influence on technology is one factor.” (p 109)

[Technology implies conformity …]

“During the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, this mechanical philosophy becomes quite explicit. It was promoted by people who took a relatively hard-headed, mathematical approach to engineering, and opposed by those who understood craft methods better, and who were more concerned about the use of knowledge and skill for human welfare.23 … one may conclude with René Dubos that ‘the dangers of technology’ do not come from complexities that make it incapable of social control, but rather from our values and world view, and ‘from man’s acceptance that he must conform to technological imperatives’ instead of striving for ‘true human values’.25” (p 110)

[Women’s technologies are not valued as are men’s …]

“Rachel Maines says that ‘female culture is documented almost exclusively in creative forms’, but these are ‘rationalized’ as the production of rather mundane, useful goods.27 Such things as the crochet work on a child’s bonnet, the cable stitch in a knitted pullover, or the icing on a son’s birthday cake are, in conventional terms, of little artistic or technical interest, and are regarded merely as decoration. Yet when men paint pictures to hang in art galleries or the houses of the rich, these are claimed to have great significance as art.” (p 110)

[Ethics not simply a principle but a process …]

“For the individual, the effort to seek a balance between virtuosity values and user or need values involves more than giving assent to an ethical principle; it requires also a discipline and a process of personal ethical development.” (p 112)

[Where values ought to be …]

“… maintenance rather than construction, nutrition and child care rather than engineering, and the question of what people need, not what professionals can supply …” (p 113)

[Self-aggrandizement in professions …]

“Much professional culture may be a disguise for this sense of emptiness, devoted as so much of it is to building up a notion of the social importance of the profession.” (p 114)

[Stages of ethical processes …]

“… three stages of ethical development are distinguished: ‘discipline is the preparation, charity the way, innocence the end’.39” (p 114)

[Virtuosity as vanity …]

“… vanity in intellectual pursuits.” (p 114)

[Example from Sri Lanka …]

“In Sri Lanka, a strikingly similar ethical system has been incorporated into technology-practice by a voluntary organization, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.” (p )

[Ethics of giving …]

“A scheme of right action based on giving (dana) or sharing, and applicable in the practice of technology…

“Shramaadana – sharing labour … Buddhidana – sharing knowledge … Bhoodana – sharing land … Gramadana – community ownership of land … Waidyadana – sharing health care … Dharmadana – sharing self-knowledge – spiritual development …” (p 116)

[Buddhist values provide a philosophy of balance …]

“But for anybody who thinks that sensitivity in the use of technology is important, even within a rationalist frame of reference, Buddhism can present some refreshingly challenging views. It does not demand belief in any god, but rather adds to humanism by offering a philosophy of life on earth in which there is a sense of continuity and natural process. There is also a tendency to think about human cre- [page break] ativity more modestly, with less stress on virtuosity. ‘Buddhists walk lightly on the earth; westerners feel they must make their mark.'” (p 117-118)

[Human urges (vices) drive technology in harmful directions …]

“Or are there in addition, deeper, perhaps instinctive drives to explain the constant building of cathedrals and Eiffel Towers that reach out toward space, and rockets that actually travel there? … [page break] … We would perhaps be more successful in controlling and coming to terms with modern technology if we better understood the power of these irrational urges, and the failure of most teachings that stress humbler works of service — Buddhist, Christian or humanist — to curb them.” (p 118-119)

Selected References

  • 11. M. Z. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, ed., Women, Culture and Society, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974, pp. 221-2. But also see Robert Evenson, ‘The new home economics’, Food Policy, 6 (1981) pp. 180-4.
  • 18. Mike Cooley, Architect or Bee? The Human/Technology Relationship, Slough: Langley Technical Services, 1980, pp. 42-4.
  • 23. Arnold Pacey, The Maze of Ingenuity, Cambridge (Mass): MIT Press, 1976, pp. 140-2, 171-2.
  • 25. René Dubos, ‘The Predicament of Man’, Seventh Science Policy Foundation Lecture, delivered at the Royal Society, London, 1971.
  • 27. Rachel Maines, ‘Fancywork: the archaeology of lives’, Feminist Art Journal, winter 1974-5, pp. 1-3.
  • 39. J. R. Ravetz, ‘… Et Augebitur Scientia’, in Problems of Scientific Revolution (the Herbert Spencer Lectures, 1973), ed. Rom Harre, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, pp. 48-52.
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