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Digital Housekeeping: New Forms of Gendered Work at Home

Principal Supervisor: Rosie Cox (Birkbeck)

Co-Supervisor: Jennifer Rode (UCL)

Project description

Housework has long been understood by feminist scholars as a key site for the creation and negotiation of gendered oppression and gendered identities. As technologies change so do the tasks that make up housework, their distribution between household members, their meanings and their status. Digital technologies are now increasingly penetrating the routines of domestic life, changing what it is possible to do as well as how tasks are done. However, how these new technologies will be absorbed within household work, how they will affect different household members and how they will be valued, are all unknown and difficult to predict. Existing studies, particularly from within computer science, of the adoption of digital technologies have tended to focus on the consumption habits of high-income households or ‘early adopters’ who have the resources and inclination to buy the latest ‘cool’ new technology. This means that less is known about the use of more routine digital technologies or the practices of lower-income or marginalised groups.

The proposed project will investigate ‘digital domestic work’, that is the work which is done within the home maintaining conventional computational technologies such as home computers, iPads and mobiles, as well as bleeding edge technologies such as home robots for cleaning or eldercare, Smart Home technologies and telepresence systems. The project will look at how these new technologies are incorporated into domestic routines of diverse households and the role of gender in the use and maintenance of these technologies. Examining the organisation of digital housekeeping offers the opportunity to study what happens when two very strongly gendered fields of activity – housework (traditionally feminine) and digital work (traditionally masculine) - collide.


  1. To map the contours of ‘digital housekeeping’ within contemporary British households – what tasks are done, how often, by whom?
  2. To explore how digital housekeeping is understood and represented by household members, particularly in terms of ideas of gendered work and skill.
  3. To examine how the design of domestic technologies contributes to routines and tasks of digital housekeeping and their organisation / allocation within households.

Proposed Methodology and timeline:

It is expected that the PhD student will spend the first year of their studies reading the relevant literature from geography, human-computer interaction (including Value-Sensitive Design (VSD), STS (Science and technology studies) and gender studies, as well as designing their study and gaining ethics clearance for their research. In year 2, they will conduct a year-long ethnographic study in London households, using a novel mixture of participant-observation, interviews, and ‘technology tours’ to investigate digital housekeeping. The student will work with a range of households, stratified across life-cycle stage and diverse in terms of characteristics such as household size, lifecycle stage, gender identity, sexual preference, class, race/ethnicity and (dis)ability. In year 3 the student will produce their final thesis. They will also present their work at relevant conferences.

Dissemination: Findings will be disseminated to both the Geography and Human-Computer Interaction literatures. The project builds on and extends recent work on digital geographies, and contributes to the burgeoning area of ‘home studies’. The project will contribute to an understanding of how technology acquires masculine or feminine symbolic gendering. This will result in two papers in the geography field, as well as, two papers in Human Computer Interaction. Additionally, Rode will work with the student turn findings into design recommendations that can create more equitable technology design, for example through the production of 'envisioning cards' from the Value-Sensitive Design tradition. These would be based on the findings of the research and could be disseminated to designers to help them understand the needs of marginalised users better.

Subject areas/ keywords

Geography; computer science; gender studies; home studies; science and technology studies (STS); Value-Sensitive Design (VSD); human-computer interactions.

Candidate requirements:

Candidate will:

  1. Possess a masters degree in Geography, Anthropology, Human-Computer Interaction, Gender Studies, or other field related to this research topic.
  2. Have prior experience of conducting ethnographic studies or be trained in ethnographic methods.
  3. Have familiarity with relevant gender theory.
  4. Demonstrate or show aptitude for IT and/or IT support. This could be through prior basic programming or helpdesk experience, engagement with a makerspace, or willingness to learn. You will be studying the use of new domestic technologies such as programmable thermostats, and thus it is important that you develop the technical skills to use these programmable appliances so that you can understand their use.

Key References

  • Federici, S (2012) Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, PM Press, Oakland.
  • Hankerson, Marshall, Booker, El Mimouni, Walker and Rode. “Does Technology Have Race?” CHI'16 Extended Abstracts, May 07-12, 2016, San Jose, CA, USA.2016 ACM. ISBN 978-1-4503-4082-3/16/05
  • Rode, J. A. (2010). The roles that make the domestic work. In Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (CSCW '10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 381-390. DOI:
  • Schwartz-Cowan, R. (1989). More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave, Basic Books, New York, NY.

Further information

For further details about the project please email Rosie Cox.

Further information about PhDs at Birkbeck is available here:

The successful student will be registered at: Birkbeck, University of London

How to apply

Instructions for applicants

Please follow the online application process for the Full-Time Geography PhD at Birkbeck, indicating your interest in working on this topic.

Additionally, email your CV and a letter of interest, which sets out your qualifications for the studentship to Dr. Rode & Prof. Cox.

Application forms and details about how to apply are available here.

Queries about the application process should be sent to:

The closing date for applications is: Monday 26th February 5pm