The gendered symbolism of office computers across three generations

Norris, Alison (2019). The gendered symbolism of office computers across three generations. University of Birmingham. M.Sc.

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The computer has changed in form and function over the last 50 years. Once a sprawling mainframe, revered and fed data encoded in punched cards, it is now a multi function hand-held device used to share personal information with an anonymous audience. It is omnipresent in UK workplaces, fundamental to the majority of businesses and critical to administrative processes. But the computer is just a machine - or is it? This is a qualitative research study within a symbolic interactionist phenomenology using narrative to explore the meaning of the computer held by participants from three generational cohorts. The research concludes that the computer is more than just the sum of its component parts. The computer is a symbol of community, providing access to online social groups, enhancing female solidarity and supporting the development of international alliances. It means freedom and independence, is a lever for professional development and key to a fathomless vat of knowledge. It is also a symbol of oppression, a stifling force, invading private space, encroaching on the sanctity of the family home and seeping into leisure time. It represents the fragmentation of social groups and isolation of individuals as it disrupts social bonds and usurps physical connection. There are whiffs of male symbolism and, being a technological artefact, the computer parades as a thing that men do. However, the study finds technology is what happens behind the scenes, and it is the application of the computer that is engendered.
Symbolic interactionism theorises that we act and react with things according to the meaning we attach to them, and that meaning comes from how we see other people act/react. Thus it would follow that how we relate to the computer as a symbol is impacting on how we relate to each other.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.Sc.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.Sc.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Birmingham Business School, Department of Management
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)


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