The robot in the kitchen: The cultural politics of care-work and the development of in-home assistive technology
The Middle-States Geographer, 37, .
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This paper considers two trends at opposite ends of the new economy: low-paid in-home care work, and the development of high-tech “social” robots. At present, the work of caring for the elderly, disabled, and convalescents is done primarily by women (disproportionately women of color) in the space of the home (Pratt, 1999). Meanwhile, in robotics labs at elite research universities and industry think-tanks in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, prototypes are being developed to take over some of this labor. Considered together, these two phenomena raise a number of questions, including: how might ideas about gender and race shape the development of assistive technologies; what does development in this field mean for understandings about technology’s “place” in our lives; and, potentially, even for those who rely on carework for their livelihood? The space of the home carries great cultural and symbolic significance (England, 2000). Allowing robots into this space to help us with our most private tasks would mark an unprecedented level of intimacy in our relationship with technology. While a “nursebot” may be able to measure vital signs, how would the replacement of a human care-giver with an assistive technology alter the relationship between the person being cared-for and the world outside? Drawing on disciplinary frames of Cultural Geography and Science and Technology Studies, this paper explores the social politics, and possible futures, of in-home assistive technology.
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