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Decentralizing the Gender-blind Meritocracy: A technofeminist discourse analysis of women's work in blockchain

Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Blockchain is the emerging, decentralized technology best known for powering cryptocurrencies. It connotes powerful narratives about socio-economic progress, democracy, transparency, and inclusion. Yet like many technology spaces, blockchain has a gender problem. According to a recent study of 100 blockchain startups, 14% of employees were women, and among those 7% were in leadership roles. Stakeholders have highlighted how gender-diverse tech teams are more innovative, profitable, and just. Yet proactive inclusion efforts are often dismissed as irrelevant in dominant tech cultures built on assumptions of postfeminist meritocracy. This dissertation cross-fertilizes macro-level discourses of the network society, meso-level discourses of the social shaping of technology, and micro-level discourses of technofeminism to offer new insights on how gender and technology shape one another. How do discourses about gender and technology enable or constrain women who work in blockchain? This study is based on a technofeminist discourse analysis of 30 interviews with women who work in the space, as well as 17 participant observations at blockchain meetups and conferences. It develops three discursive frames about gender and technology in blockchain into an analytical framework inspired by Hall's encoding/decoding model of communication. They include: (1) the dominant "gender-blind meritocracy," (2) the negotiated, gender-conscious "lean into blockchain" frame and (3) the oppositional "intersectional inclusion" frame. Women perform the additional labour of 'toggling' between frames to navigate the material conditions of blockchain work. This study demonstrates how words do more than reflect reality. Words make worlds. Participants were both enabled and constrained by each of the discourses, depending on social context. The data suggests that both top-down organizational initiatives and bottom-up grassroots initiatives are necessary, but insufficient on their own, to create meaningful improvements for women in the space. Gender equity in tech spaces can not accurately be measured by the politics of representation, but by the politics of inclusion. This study offers new insights about broader sociotechnical shifts occurring at present with the rise of the equitable tech movement.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Chow-White, Peter
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