Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Empowering Women? Engaging a Technology Grant for Social Change

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Empowering Women? Engaging a Technology Grant for Social Change

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper examines and exposes the writing and implementation of a project, funded by a federal government grant that worked to increase the technological literacy levels of women at an urban working-class university in the Midwest. This three-year study/intervention clearly reveals that disrupting the 'digital divide' for working-class women at our university, particularly women of color, requires engagements with the material and practical realities of their everyday lives. In addition to findings in relation to gender, race, low-income communities and technology, participation in this study/intervention illuminated for the authors--anti-racist, feminist academics and organizers--the consequences and costs of moving epistemological frameworks to acquire the needed resources to fuel our project. Shaping this project to pass in an ideologically 'neutral' landscape rendered us proficient in, and subsequently shaped by, this landscape. In exploring this research path, we name and expose conflicts over institutional 'turf,' the consequences of taking federal resources to pursue our agenda, the failures of the project, alongside the more data-driven findings of the project that relate to gender and technology. We analyze the most 'successful' and unimagined component of this project: the importance of creating spaces where students can participate as legitimate community members (for our population this means in part as paid workers) to learn technological skills without the notable presence of a teacher, a class or curriculum.

Key Words: women and technology, social change, grants

Introduction

This paper discusses what became possible--conceptually, politically, and practically--during the design and the implementation of a project, funded by a US government agency (3), that worked to increase the technological literacy levels of women at an urban working-class university in the Midwest. This three-year project suggests that disrupting the 'digital divide' for working class women at our university, particularly women of color, requires engagements with the material realities of their everyday lives- not merely 'technological infusion' or 'curriculum transformation.' The women at our university with whom we engaged throughout this project needed meaningful employment to sustain academic study. Non-formal educational contexts (no classrooms, no teachers, and no students) became generative sites for them to begin to acquire computer skills and computer expertise (Lave and Wenger 1991; Resnick 1998; Jensen and de Castell 2002).

In addition, participation in this project illuminated the consequences and costs of moving epistemological frameworks to acquire needed resources. Developing and implementing this project shifted us, feminist academics and organizers, from our relatively comfortable epistemological terrain populated by anti-racist feminist theories and praxis, and queer theories and communities, to a landscape inhabited by frameworks of liberal multiculturalism, positivism, a 'politically and ideologically neutral' language of educational reform, and more. Acquiring the needed resources entailed establishing ourselves in this landscape that was seemingly devoid of familiar intellectual markers or signposts: an analysis of "oppositional theory and practice" (4) and an analysis of "interlocking systems of oppression." (5)

As feminist educators--Erica, Assistant Professor of Education and Women's Studies, and Laurie, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Women's Studies--our teaching and research focuses on centering marginalized knowledges and practices, and we critique and challenge the dominant social, political and historical production of knowledge. Conceptualizing, writing and working to successfully engage this project pushed us into new terrain and new questions: What are the consequences of a 'take the money and run' strategy for those committed to progressive (often radical) social reform in and outside the academy? …

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