Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ethics and Information Technology

Initially, this call for papers seemed a bit far afield for Museum Anthropology. But, then, we got thinking about the discussion surrounding open source, and began considering the ways in which these technologies intersect with questions of ethics. Perhaps these issues should deeply concern museums because they hold and channel information to different communities in different ways. From a news release:

Call for Papers for a Special Issue with Ethics and Information Technology on “ICT and the capability approach”

Some influential theories of distributive justice, fairness and equality, like that of John Rawls, discuss fair distribution in terms of shares of primary goods available to people. The main criticism of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum of these views is that it is not the goods that are ultimately important, but what they allow us to do and be, the kind of lives they enable us to live. Giving everyone a laptop or some other piece of technology is no good in and by itself, according to their ‘capability approach’.

Some people will be able to make good use of it and increase their level of functioning, whereas others who are for example illiterate or do not have access to a reliable power supply cannot possibly convert their possession of this particular technology into anything useful in their lives. Human functioning and capabilities are therefore at the centre of the work of Nussbaum and Sen. The capability approach is thoroughly normative, since it demands that people are brought to a minimum level of capabilities necessary to lead flourishing lives.

Although the capability approach has been widely adopted in development thinking, hardly any work has been done on the interrelations between the capability approach and technology. This is remarkable, since technology by definition aims at expanding human capabilities. In recent years, however, publications have started emerging on this topic, most of them concerned with ICT and more in particular with ICT and developing countries. A possible reason for this may be the high expectations regarding the positive contributions ICT will make in issues concerning development and global justice. One of the icons of ‘ICT for Development’ or e-development is the poor farmer in a developing country who now has access to crop prizes thanks to his mobile phone and as a result can eliminate the middlemen. The capability approach may be able to provide a lens through which such ICT applications can be critically scrutinized and evaluated.

In this special issue of Ethics and Information Technology the relevance and implications of the capability approach for ICT will further be explored, though not merely confined to the context of developing countries. We invite contributions concerning both theoretical and applied issues from all over the world and with relevance for either Western countries, developing countries, or both. Some of the issues that can be addressed are the following:
  • Case studies about specific ICTs / capabilities / groups of people / contexts
  • The capability approach and the digital divide
  • System level effects of ICT and the capability approach
  • Designing ICT for human capabilities
  • The capability approach and evaluation of e-development projects
  • Complexity of capability effects of ICT: short versus long term, enabling as well as constraining, etc.
  • The tension between agency versus well-being in ICT4D practise
  • ICT, objective capabilities, subjective valuations & adaptive preferences
  • The capability approach, participation and ICT
  • The capability approach, ICT and (neutrality towards) the good lifeICT and individual / collective / external capabilities
  • Applied ontology of ICT and human capabilities

The editors at Ethics and Information Technology are seeking articles for a special issue in this area. Submissions will be double‐blind refereed for relevance to the theme as well as academic rigor and originality. High quality articles not deemed to be sufficiently relevant to the special issue may be considered for publication in a subsequent non-themed issue. Closing date for submissions: February 28nd, 2010.

To submit your paper, please use the online submission system, to be found at For any questions or information regarding this special issue, please contact the managing editor, NoĆ«mi Manders‐Huits, N.L.J.L.Manders‐

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