Feds Give $570,890 Science Grant to 'Intersectional Feminisms' Professor

Researcher wants to 'transform the powers of technology to advance social justice'

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October 18, 2018

The National Science Foundation awarded a half a million dollars to an "intersectional feminisms" professor to study how to recruit more women into STEM fields.

The goal of the study, being led by Dr. Coleen Carrigan, a feminist anthropologist at California Polytechnic State University, is to "interrupt the reproduction of dominant class rule" in engineering and computer science programs. Carrigan's research focuses on how to "transform the powers of technology to advance social justice."

The project involves studying female engineering professors to "lend critical insights into the social/technical divide" that results in fewer women entering science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs.

The study seeks to upend current engineering and computer science programs by educating students and faculty on the "benefits of diversity and transformations required to foster welcoming environments for women."

"Due to the prominence and impact of ECS [engineering and computer science], identifying gender inequities in the field and interrupting them will help welcome and retain more talented women from a range of intersectional identities," the grant for the project states. "Harnessing the power of diversity in this way will positively contribute to all domains on which computing impinges."

The study has received $570,890 from taxpayers so far. Research began in June and is slated to continue through May 2023.

Other aims of the study include conceptualizing "labor segregation" and "intersecting vectors of gender."

"To yield new knowledge useful in efforts to broaden participation, this CAREER project systematically conceptualizes how labor segregation may relate to an ideological hierarchy between the social and technical dimensions of computing and influence cultural exclusions along intersecting vectors of gender and race," the grant states.

The project will create "educational interventions" into the engineering and computer science culture in order to "both interrupt the reproduction of dominant class rule and to study the beliefs and power relations of computing communities."

"Not only does this project contribute a novel qualitative theory of cultural change in ECS, it also tests innovative methods to better elucidate who and what counts in the field and why," the grant states.

Carrigan, the principal investigator on the study, is an assistant professor of Gender, Race, Culture, Science and Technology Studies at Cal Poly's Women's and Gender Studies Department.

Her research fields include "Intersectional Feminisms," "Cultural anthropology," "Science and technology studies," "Action-oriented ethnography," and "Broadening participation."

"First, she uses action-oriented ethnography to document women's lived experiences as marginalized members of STEM fields, the ways they navigate the politics of gender and race and the rites of passage in high-tech communities that reproduce inequalities and the ideological divide between the social and the technical," according to Carrigan's faculty page.

Carrigan also studies "feminist consciousness."

"Second, she studies women's intersectional identities and feminist consciousness and excavates the collective actions and values critical to demanding and enacting institutional change in STEM cultures," the website states. "Third, she examines cultures of STEM knowledge production through the experiences and perspectives of undergraduate students from marginalized standpoints."

"She applies her research findings to create interventions that help foster welcoming environments for underrepresented groups in STEM and transform the powers of technology to advance social justice," according to Cal Poly.

Courses taught by Carrigan include "Gender, Race, Culture, Science and Technology" and "Queer Anthropology."

She did not immediately respond to request for comment.