Research Showcase: Abi Hockaday

“She had always been good with her hands” (Machine Made, 53)

Abi Hockaday is a PhD Researcher in Literature in the School of English. Her research project explores the connections between the rise of the computing industry during WW2, and how the relationship between women and computers was figured in British science fiction (SF). The representation of women and computers in British SF reflects the significant anxieties about gender and technology in the post-war period.  Looking particularly at British SF magazines, we can see the complex relationship between gender, affect and technology. The project considers the gendered divisions of labour and desire in stories such as E.R. James’ “Robots Never Weep” (Nebula, 1952), and examines women’s responses to these representations, such as Kathleen Downe’s “Why Not A Woman?” (Authentic Science Fiction, 1955), to explore women’s affective responses to these anxieties. 

This research stems from Abi’s B.A., in which she completed a conference paper on the emergence of American SF pulp magazines, and her dissertation, titled: “The Cyborg and the Goddess: (Im)Possible Femininity in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992)”. Building on from this, her M.Litt. looked more closely at post feminism, conceptions of the cyberwomb and posthumanism, and power and desire in British SF magazines. This PhD project builds on this previous work, examining who is allowed to use, and therefore control, the computing machine in these texts, to understand what implications this has for wider cultural anxieties about the technofuture. Using Joanna Russ and Lisa Yaszek’s work on Galactic Suburbia’s – that is, SF texts set in the future, but which uphold conservative values – the project explores the stereotyped images of women around and as technology. Sexualised and stylised, these women are repeatedly figured as evil and dangerous villains that the male protagonist/hero must overpower. This work (re)frames British SF around the cultural relationship between women and computing, utilising digital humanities, periodical studies, SF studies, gender studies, and affect theory.

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