General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
Studies of engineering have approached the question of ethics through "public engagement" (Choy 2005, Ottinger 2013, Welker 2009) and "everyday work” (Bucciarelli 1994, Downey 1998). This paper contributes to these studies by attending to the tensions and confluences between engineers’ own ethical reflections on their work and understandings that approach ethics as political. Many possibilities emerge in where to locate “the ethical” while bringing what a practitioner herself thinks of as “ethical” together with what an ethnographic observer may have learned to see as such (Lambek et al. 2010, Lederman 2006). This paper interprets five different versions of an ethics code circulated by one Australian engineering society between 1974 and the present. I draw on more than fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork exploring the communities of engineering practitioners in the geographic area that either do or do not overlap with the society’s membership, to consider the social status of these textual artifacts in the present. Studies of ethics codes illuminate how practitioners conceptually structure their own engagements with the interconnected, more-than-human media of their work. Knowing that documents produced by institutionalized disciplines are active in processes of subject-formation, I describe how the versions of the codes construct the boundaries and the promises of “being ethical” for the engineering communities. I observe the mechanisms by which the documents produce a lacuna around the political efficacy of technoscientific practice (Mukerji 2009, Shapin and Schaffer 1985), and I consider the experienced limits of “disciplinarity” expressed by practitioners when discussing the codes.