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The main body of the book focuses on empirical research by sociologists and feminists on women's employment and technological change. Chapter 3 looks at gender relations in the shaping of technologies and, drawing on a wide range of comparative material, Webster shows gender divisions of labour are central to the process of technological development. Chapter 4 examines information and communication technologies and the shaping of women's employment. Again, Webster draws on extensive information from around the world to show that rationalization, decentralization, offshore processing and so forth are a threat to women's employment. Chapter 5 focuses, more specifically on the implementation of new technologies in offices, banks, shops and the clothing industry. This chapter, in my view, is the strongest in the book since it draws on Webster's previous research on secretaries and the extent to which they have been deskilled or not. The discussion on bank clerks is also right up to date and, again, an invaluable source of information.
The remaining chapters are somewhat different in focus. Chapter 6 focuses on major feminist initiatives on the design process of computer systems. Webster offers a realistic evaluation of their often limited successes especially when other priorities come to the fore. The concluding chapter provides a final overview of research into new technologies and women's jobs. The majority of women, Webster argues, undertake technological work in 'relatively powerless and peripheral positions' in the workplace. This is a pessimistic picture of women's employment in relation to technology. However, she concludes that there are possibilities for change by developing initiatives which challenge the way in which technology is currently developed, This is a more optimistic picture of the possibilities of change. In other words, Webster has produced a carefully balanced text for students which will quickly find its way on to reading lists on gender, employment and technology.
University of Manchester