Gender, Health and Information Technology in Context (Health, Technology and Society)

Balka, Ellen, Green, Eileen and Henwood, Flis (eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan Ltd, Basingstoke
2009
9780230216341 (hb)

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Cover of book This edited book by Balka, Green, and Henwood provides a nuanced and interdisciplinary examination of the complex ways in which gender is both influenced by, and informative of, health-related information and communications technologies (ICTs). The authors stress three key bodies of literature which play an important role in shaping their approach: the gender and technology, technology and health, and the gender and health literatures. Each of these literatures provide for a broad synthesis which launches the authors' exploration of the, 'perhaps for the first time in one collection, the intersection of gender, technology, and health.' (p. 3) The text provides a refreshing balance of theoretical conceptions and empirical case-studies. The introduction gives us a limited review of the literatures mentioned above and develops a synthesis which underlines the exceedingly rare analytical treatments of gender in relation to health and ICTs. The choice of the nine case-studies is strategic in crafting a multi-theoretical and methodological collection of research articles which, taken together, provide an exploration of three major themes: health information seeking, informal contexts and gendered care giving (chapters 1 4); formal health care settings, ICTs and gendered paid work (chapters 5 7); and ICTs and gendered ways of knowing (chapters 8 -9). The case-studies take place in three national settings: Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The reader will be delighted with the range of theoretical and methodological approaches found in the book.

The first four chapters examine health information seeking, informal contexts, and gendered care giving. A major theme running through the four case-studies is that of stereotypical representations of gendered work roles (for example, nursing and caring as feminine and management as masculine) and the ways in which they shape, and are shaped by, interaction with ICTs.

Chapters five through seven address the theme of formal health care settings, ICTs, and gendered paid work. A main theme for all three case-studies is the 'theme of gendered patterns of job segregation in health-related occupations.' (p. 181) For example, the first two chapters deal with the varied ways in which ICTs work to define professional work roles and, in the end, reproduce gendered occupational segregation.

Chapters eight and nine provide insight into the last theme of ICTs and gendered ways of knowing health. For example, chapter eight by Le Jeune provides an analysis of the ways in which ICTS have an indirect influence on the construction of gender. By analyzing occupational health and safety and other databases, Le Jeune gives us insight into the relationship between how health-related databases are constructed and the result of omissions and silences concerning knowledge related to women's health issues. The last chapter by Green, Griffiths, and Lindenmeyer provides an interesting analysis of 'body imaging' through screening technology and the ways in which it inscribes authoritative knowledge of women's bodies and, thus, 'encourages women to devalue their everyday knowledge of their own bodies.' (p. 182) The only criticism I have of the book is the layout of the chapters. While the authors provide a grouping of the chapters under themes in the introduction and in the conclusion, the chapters are arranged in the content area as simply chapters one through nine. As I read the chapters, I had to keep referring back to the introduction to remind myself which theme the chapter I was reading referred to. The book would have benefited by placing the chapters within three sections, with each section reflecting the theme proposed in the introduction. A short introduction to each section would also have made for easier reading. However, the criticism notwithstanding, the book is a major contribution to the literature and provides a new look into the relationship between gender and ICTs. The work gives us a wonderful bibliography of the subject which will be helpful to the novice reader and to scholars in the area. The text would compliment many courses in the health fields, medical sociology and anthropology, and gender studies.

Michael Spivey
University of North Carolina At Pembroke