The difference between robot girls and boys

Social informatics researcher Selma Šabanović takes up the Visiting Professorship for Gender Studies at Bielefeld University

When are robots assigned a male or female gender? Do men and women think about or interact differently with robots? How do our social notions and lived experiences of gender influence the design and use of social robots? Social informatics and human-robot interaction researcher Selma Šabanović PhD from Indiana University in Bloomington, USA, investigates questions such as these. From mid-June she will take up the post of Visiting Professor for Gender Studies at Bielefeld University. Šabanović will be giving lectures in the current summer semester and discussing research on gender, culture, and robotics in seminars at the Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology CITEC.

During her stay in Bielefeld, the technology researcher Selma Šabanović is investigating the conditions under which people assign robots gender. Photo: Indiana University Selma Šabanović’s field of research focuses on the interaction between humans and machines and intercultural studies of science and technology. She also applies social analysis to shed light on the use and the design of robots. Šabanović researches, for example, how laypeople experience and use robots in everyday situations, at home or in nursing facilities. In Japan and the USA she investigates how robot technology in different cultures is designed and perceived and analyses how interaction with robots varies. Amongst other methodologies, she uses behavioural analysis, ethnography, laboratory experiments and surveys.

Bosnian born Selma Šabanović is a researcher at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, USA. In 2008 and 2009 she was a lecturer at Stanford University in the USA on the Program in Science, Technology and Society. She was a Visiting Researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Tsukaba, Japan, as well as the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA. She completed her doctorate in 2007 at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, USA. Before this, she studied political science and international relations at the Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Visiting Professorship for Gender Studies was established as a cross-faculty ‘travelling professorship’. With this initiative, Bielefeld University aims to strengthen and anchor gender specific content in research and teaching in collaboration with the faculties. It also strives to transfer and embed knowledge gained through gender research into the individual disciplines. Furthermore, it aims to raise the profile of women in research and teaching. Bielefeld University has been funding this Professorship since 2010.

Previous Visiting Professors are the legal scholars Dr Ulrike Lembke (Universität Hamburg - Hamburg University) and Dr Barbara Degen (cofounder of the Feministisches Rechtsinstitut - Feminist Institute for Law) in Bonn and Hamburg, as well as the epidemics researcher Dr Claudia Terschüren (Landesinstitut für Gesundheit und Arbeit des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen -North Rhine Westphalia Centre for Health and Work), the sociologist Professor Dr. Cornelia Helfferich (Protestant University for Applied Sciences Freiburg) and the anglicist Professor Dr. Maryemma Graham (University of Kansas, USA).

Further information available online at: (in German)

Dr Emine Bilek, Bielefeld University
Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC)
Telephone: +49 (0)521 106-12037