Robot Festival (Prague)

 An Attachment Crisis: Gender, Intimate Relationships and Companion Robots

This paper will bring together two fields of research, the rise of companion robots with a gendered theory of attachment.

Robots companions are now offered by the robotic community as viable alternatives to the human in an intimate relational encounter as a friend, lover or therapist, areas of human contact where affective relations are highly regarded.

I want to propose that the rise in companion robots is underscored by a particular vision of affect and intimate relationship that is an extension of the market realm, and outside the affective relations typically expressed by women (and males) in caring roles. By bringing affect into the technological realm, robotic scientists participate in the redefinition of intimate relationship, reducing its elements to signals and scripts.

This marks the point where Weber’s Iron Cage is realized in machine form. By drawing on attachment theories, one of the richest and most extensive theories of human relationship, proposing that affect (love, care) was as important for childhood maturation and development as the provision of food and shelter. John Bowlby’s special reference to the “mother” figure show that attachments between humans are built out of intimate relational encounters, in the first instance, between caregivers and their children.

Care and the cultivation of affect is an important sphere and women have typically (and still do) play the role of affective care providers in intimate relationships as wives and mothers and caring for the care for extended family. This has led some to essentialise the ‘caregiving’ roles of women as aspects of their essential identity (Baron-Cohen), others such as Gilligan (2011) have shown how male and female responses to care are shaped by their formative childhood experiences, and that particularly cultures groom males and females into the roles they are expected to take in later life.

As birth rates now decline in Germany, Italy, France, and the UK, women are having to make difficult choices between choosing a family life and having a career. This paper will explore the gender transformation of caregiving, the appropriation of care by robotic scientists and by drawing on attachment theories, explore the role of attachment in shaping the human.

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