Research Fields

Here you will find a thematic overview of research fields. If you are interested in particular PhD projects, please click here.

Field of Research 1: Abstractions and Modelling

Abstractions are essential to scientific work. In order to understand, and especially to modify, the complex reality in which we live, we need to categorize, construct models and express the elements of reality as formulas. Informatics, whose methods are increasingly influential in other disciplines, create a certain type of model (pattern) for the process of modelling. This process is commonly understood as being performed in three steps, namely formalisation (world modelling), creation of algorithms (mathematical description) and mechanisation (programming) (cfr. Bath et al. 2009). In addition, for technical applications it is necessary to normalise and standardise the process and its elements. In the course of these translations between the human world and machines, we make assumptions and take positions that remain unconscious, but have political implications (Bowker/Star 2000, Bowker 2005). Abstraction and modelling simplify research subjects and ignore special cases and exceptions, overlooking contradictory data. Tools such as modelling languages or methods of visualisation may enhance this bias. Critical analyses have shown that the types of activities often reduced or excluded in those complex modelling processes are those that have gendered, mostly female, connotations (e.g. aspects of care, communication, or emotions) and hence have an influence on female-associated professions (cfr. Maaß/Rommes 2007). Common goals and objectives: The projects in this research field undertake interdisciplinary work, in order to identify blind spots and exclusions resulting from the methods of abstraction, seeking to close gaps in our knowledge and strengthen study in areas such as gender. Abstraction and model construction are both the necessary means of the processes of technological development and scientific evidence production, and their results. In this research field, we aim to better understand these relation(s). The research methods in focus here are analysed with respect to their premises: What is posited as norm(al) and what is considered to be an exception/ an anomaly? Which types of in- and exclusions do we draw from these premises (Draude et al 2014)? Do they correlate with existing social order(s) and disparities? How are are “cultures of objectivity” (Daston/Galison 2007) altered by the data of experiments in life-sciences, in comparison with methods such as microscopic techniques (Wahrig 1994) and what new roles do they play in knowledge production?

Field of Research 2: Creativity and Design

“Design" can have different meanings in the field of art and aesthetics or in the realm of technical product development. The word encompasses aspects of imagination as well as technological implementation. In both senses, design demands creativity as well as mastery specific to the field’s craft and its methods. ”Design”, as a way of creating, is no less gendered than design as technology and as craft. The image of the designer as a (creative) artist and that of the engineer as a creator have gendered (male) connotations. Both aspects of this image derive from the latin “ingenium”, which is connected to invention, brilliance, and ingenuity. Later in history, “the engineer” is also understood in the context of the art of war, while today, the word recalls a person with technical expertise, based on sound theoretical knowledge. Traditionally, in Western cultures, the associated term “design” has had a male connotation; and to this day, the male sex makes up the majority of professionals in this field. Both technical artifacts and media products, such as films, are often gendered through projecting and affirming stereotypical ideas of women and men. Conversely, design and media can weaken stereotypes, make more realistic assumptions, or even encode gender differently in everyday thinking, thereby making constructs of masculinity and femininity flexible and ambiguous. Common goals and objectives: Studies in this field of research aim at analyzing the gendering of activities, processes and products in artistic and technical design, in all their multiple facets and occasional contradictions. Simultaneously, the researchers in this field will propose alternative images and design methods: What is the potential of a gender-critical or non-dualistic design? And which (technical) design tools and methods are essential? How can, for instance, usability approaches and gender research be combined? Do participatory approaches to design promote the social and symbolic inclusion of previously excluded and ignored people in a technical product?

Field of Research 3: Materialization – Virtualization – Representation

Human-machine configurations do not just represent mediations between form and substance, mind and matter. They themselves are also created: Transitions between materiality and the virtual world are shaped by technical media as well as imagined as ideas. For example, simulations mimic aspects and understandings of material engineering, while in films, utopian and dystopian, human beings are conceived of as machine-like beings. Even technological development can be inspired by science fiction. Every new artifact and machine is a new act of creation between mind and matter. Behind this lies a web of tensions with deep cultural and historical roots, represented by contrasts such as substance/form or potentiality/reality. The constructs, imaginings, but also the understandings of technology are to be found in this web of tensions between virtual and material reality. Machine-human configurations are seen as intermediate states between “mind” and “matter” (etymologically related to mater, "mother" and matrix, "uterus"), and are placed on a normative background. For example, the mind is often placed above the body, the form and the sign rating above substance. To date, concepts of machine-human configurations have been based without reflection on this hierarchical, dualistic vision and have, therefore, reinforced gender stereotypes. In this field of research, we will analyze these mental structures and try to develop alternative technological developments and design. In the history of natural sciences (especially biology) the concept of matter has been linked to that of reproduction. In contrast, the technical sciences have emphasized the (active) creative shaping of matter. In this sense, matter is understood as substance, or material, whose meaning is attained only through the activity of the engineer. By focusing on this difference, we hope to gain insight into the theoretical foundations of technical design. However, this focus opens up new research perspectives in the technical sciences: What is the process of technical design, and what do we mean by material? What new aspects arise when films are integrated as paradigmatic “ Works of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Walter Benjamin)? Common goals and objectives: In this field we undertake research about the histories of materialities, their representations, and the attempts to discard them, by virtualising or annihilating matter and materiality or (in the dialectical sense of “Aufhebung”) by directing it to a higher level of understanding. Our aim is the creation of productive conversations between the study of material and virtual artifacts and the understanding of each specific artifact. Studies in this field may explore materializations of heteronormativity within the material sciences (such as the expression of form/substance in a material way through steel or timber construction, or media staging of technologies) or the increasingly virtual character of engineering processes (i.e. transitions from mechanical to digital computing, from technical drawing with pen to CAD) from the perspective of Gender Studies. Gender analyses, applied to the participating disciplines ( Media Studies, Philosophy of Technology), will work towards overcoming rigid dualisms, both on a theoretical level and regarding technological development/design (for theoretical accounts cfr. for example Haraway 1997)

Field of Research 4: Networks and Emotions

Human-machine configurations can be understood as components of socio-technical networks. Networks are constituted by human and nonhuman actors. Network analyses with the support of actor-network theory (ANT, Latour, Callon, Law) are a prominent instrument of analysis in “Science & Technology Studies”. It is a desideratum of Gender Studies to investigate the possibilities and gaps of this popular theory. “Network” is a 'terminus technicus' with varied meanings in different disciplines, and this area of research is about illuminating the potentialities of these concepts. The ANT approach has proven to be highly productive, particularly concerning the development and execution of empirical case studies, so-called laboratory studies, in investigating human-machine relations, going beyond technological and social determinism but also beyond technological euphoria or cultural pessimism. The metaphor of "networking" accommodates the aspirations of Gender Studies to break down hierarchies and overcome heteronormativity. However, if network analyses are to be applied to Gender Studies, they must be explicitly complemented by a reflection on power relations within the networks themselves. At this point, we also need to ask what analytical potential ANT has for the observation of the processes of technology development from a Gender Studies perspective. During the past decades, rationality has been seen as a key feature of humanness. As a consequence, studies about the interaction of human and nonhuman actors have been based on concepts of rationality. Lately, however, in the social sciences and the humanities, emotions have received increasing attention. Currently, the question of how emotions or their representations may be communicated between human and nonhuman actors appears to be highly pertinent, as illustrated by care robots and voice recognition systems. These generate new questions on structural-symbolic gender structures. Common goals and objectives: Studies in this field of research investigate, for example, human-machine interactions in complex systems of control, new media and mixed technologies, which blur the oppositions between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ social technologies. They also include gender-critical analyses of new forms of work organization through network cooperation and reflect the latter by using approaches such as ANT. The objective is, on the one hand, a critical review of ANT as an instrument of Gender Research in technology and Technical Sciences. On the other hand, we aim to develop conceptual tools for the understanding and the handling of emotions in a sociotechnical field that offers multiple and multifaceted understandings of gender and gender relationships.

  last changed 27.11.2017
TU_Icon_E_Mail_1_17x17_RGB pagetop