The tech bias: why Silicon Valley needs social theory

 

Article Summary

This article deals with the topic of under-representation of women in the technological sector ; gives us an insight about social theory and why it is required. The author starts with the memo of James Damore former engineer at Google which claimed that the under-representation of women in tech was partly caused by inherent biological differences between men and women. This memo drew on longstanding sexist stereotypes that have been disproven time and again, and it included only the vaguest mention of decades of research in relevant domains such as gender studies. These omissions didn’t stem from a lack of access to knowledge but pointed to an unwillingness to accept that social theory is actually valid knowledge in the first place.

Social theorists in fields have shown how race, gender and class biases inform technical design.In many cases, what’s eroding the value of social knowledge is unintentional bias as on display when prominent advocates for equality in science and tech undervalue research in the social sciences. But by contrast , social theorists have shown a keen interest in illuminating how unjust social relations inform the development of science and technology and here the author gives an example of xerox company to elucidate this .

She feels that social theory also plays a critical role in understanding rare, catastrophic events, which can’t be assessed solely in terms of technical failure. The author gives various examples to show that the social theory is not about detaching oneself from the world but is to observe it at a distance.The goal is to improve knowledge of the social world, an effort that goes hand in hand with active efforts to change society for the better, while also thinking critically, and continuously, about what ‘better’ means, and for whom while it’s detractors dislike it not because it’s not effective, but because it is.

The author concludes that if tech companies are serious about building a better society then they must attend more closely to social theory. She believes that if social insights were easy, and it’s practice is followed readily from understanding, then racism, poverty and other debilitating systems of power and inequality would be a thing of the past.

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Words to Learn from this article:

Memo: a memorandum

Stereotype: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing

Skewed: make biased or distorted in a way that is regarded as inaccurate, unfair, or misleading

 

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