“Envisioning Digital Sanctuaries”: An Exploration of Virtual Collectives for Nurturing Professional Development of Women in Technical Domains
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Information Studies
Care, Gender, Online communities, Professional development, Resilience, Technical workforce
Library and Information Science | Social Justice | Social Media | Social Psychology
Work and learning are essential facets of our existence, yet sociocultural barriers have historically limited access and opportunity for women in multiple contexts, including their professional pursuits. Such sociocultural barriers are particularly pronounced in technical domains and have relegated minoritized voices to the margins. As a result of these barriers, those affected have suffered strife, turmoil, and subjugation. Hence, it is important to investigate how women can subvert such structural limitations and find channels through which they can seek support and guidance to navigate their careers. With the proliferation of modern communication infrastructure, virtual forums of conversation such as Reddit have emerged as key spaces that allow knowledge-sharing, provide opportunities for mobilizing collective action, and constitute sanctuaries of support and companionship. Yet, recent scholarship points to the negative ramifications of such channels in perpetuating social prejudice, directed particularly at members from historically underrepresented communities. Using a novel comparative muti-method, multi-level empirical approach comprising content analysis, social network analysis, and psycholinguistic analysis, I explore the way in which virtual forums engender community and foster avenues for everyday resilience and collective care through the analysis of 400,267 conversational traces collected from three subreddits (r/cscareerquestions, r/girlsgonewired & r/careerwoman). Blending the empirical analysis with a novel theoretical apparatus that integrates insights from social constructivist frameworks, feminist data studies, computer-supported collaborative work, and computer-mediated communication, I highlight how gender, care, and community building intertwine and collectively impact the emergent conversational habits of these online enclaves. Key results indicate six content themes ranging from discussions on knowledge advancement to scintillating ethical probes regarding disparities manifesting in the technical workplace. Further, psycholinguistic and network insights reveal four pivotal roles that support and enrich the communities in different ways. Taken together, these insights help to postulate an emergent spectrum of relationality ranging from a more agentic to a more communal pattern of affinity building. Network insights also yield valuable inferences regarding the role of automated agents in community dynamics across the forums. A discussion is presented regarding the emergent routines of care, collective empowerment, empathy-building tactics, community sustenance initiatives, and ethical perspectives in relation to the involvement of automated agents. This dissertation contributes to the theory and practice of how virtual collectives can be designed and sustained to offer spaces for enrichment, empowerment, and advocacy, focusing on the professional development of historically underrepresented voices such as women.
Sengupta, Subhasree, "“Envisioning Digital Sanctuaries”: An Exploration of Virtual Collectives for Nurturing Professional Development of Women in Technical Domains" (2022). Dissertations - ALL. 1603.
Library and Information Science Commons, Social Justice Commons, Social Media Commons, Social Psychology Commons