This thesis proposes relational engineering as a framework for developing technology that stands in contrast to dominant notions in US tech culture that prioritize profit, scale, productivity, and solutionism. Relational engineering serves as a feminist utopia that envisions the design and development of technology as the crafting of social relations between humans and non-humans in a sociotechnical system. I investigate how relational engineering might be operationalized in the US tech sector by first reviewing the sector’s current ideological landscape and then investigating two case studies. One case study looks at the norms and practices found in a feminist data science lab and how it created an inclusive engineering space outside of dominant tech culture. The second case study defines the term “social machines” and considers how these might be designed to promote equity and justice by crafting non-domineering human-machine relations. The case studies are just two examples of how technology can be developed from the perspective of creating caring relations among actors in a sociotechnical system. A relational engineering ethos is intended as an actionable mindset to help technology designers and developers grapple with the fact that they are building social relations as opposed to neutral artifacts.
About Kelly Wagman
Kelly is a human-computer interaction researcher working on building a more inclusive internet. She can be found @kellybwagman on Twitter or at kellybwagman.com.
Thesis: Sex, Power, and Technology: A Relational Engineering Ethos As Feminist Utopia