As artificial Intelligence advances into the home as technoscientific “innovation,” it appears to be performing domestic labor in ways which reproduce gendered social norms. Networks of wire, silicon and developers’ code embodied in slick, minimal casings and typically gendered female, these domestic robots are a manifestation of many unconscious psychosocial norms, including the (artificial) mind as reproduction of the brain/neurophysiological processes, code as reproduction of thought, home as site of labor, and woman as site of domestic pleasure and production. How does the development of artificial intelligence in and for “domestic robots,” from Amazon Echo and Google Home to sex robots and exercise equipment, inform the way we conceptualize and engage with “intelligence,” labor, agency, and gender? How does embodiment configure this alignment of processes in ways which either reproduce or challenge gender norms of domestic practice? And how does the broader shift in gender performance of home labor towards more equitable division impact both the development of this technology and its use as regards conceptualizing the intersection of body and mind? Finally, how do these frames interact with the capitalist motivations for such sociotechnical developments?

Theoretical Orientation

I am drawing explicitly from Science and Technology Studies (STS) literature, including feminist STS work on the co-production of gender and domestic technologies, and the intersections of technology and labor. Building on the works of feminist philosophers of science Vandana Shiva and Wendy Chun, and feminist STS scholars Ruth Schwartz Cowan, Wendy Faulkner and Judy Wajcman, I seek to address and frame the relationality of domestic robots within context of gender performativity, domestic production, and embodiment. I am also drawing on the work of feminist psychoanalytic semiotics research, especially Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Helene Cixous in order to ground an exploration of psychosocial meaning-making processes undergirding these dynamics and which have not been thoroughly explored within the STS literature.


I am currently using a structured play model to observe and interrogate the interactivity of domestic robots in the form of the Amazon Echo (‘Alexa’) and the Google Home. By using “play” as a methodological framework akin to the development process of quality assurance (QA), I aim to approach these technologies in ways that both articulate and interrogate their intended use, as well as perhaps explore alternate uses to understand the limits and blind spots of the technologies as they currently exist, both physically and linguistically (which I mean here in both the sense of the code constructing the rules of interaction, as well as the interaction between the device and user). I am attending to use of language, assumptions of gender, and assumptions of agency exhibited in interactions between these robots and myself, the robots and other lab members, and the robots and each other.


Jamie Steele – Project Head