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Canons against Cannons? Social Justice and the Engineering Ethics Imaginary

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Non-Canonical Canons of Engineering Ethics

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Engineering Ethics, and Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.322.1 - 26.322.19



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Paper Authors


Donna M Riley Virginia Tech

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Donna Riley is Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech.

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Yanna Lambrinidou Virginia Tech

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Yanna Lambrinidou is a medical ethnographer and adjunct assistant professor in the Science and Technology Studies (STS) program at Virginia Tech. For the past 8 years, she has conducted extensive research on the historic 2001-2004 Washington, DC lead-in-drinking-water contamination. This work exposed wrongdoing and unethical behavior on the part of engineers and scientists in local and federal government agencies. In 2010, Dr. Lambrinidou co-conceived the graduate level engineering ethics course "Engineering Ethics and the Public," which she has been co-teaching to students in engineering and science. She is co-Principal Investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) research and education project developing an ethnographic approach to engineering ethics education.

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Canons against Cannons? Social Justice and the Engineering Ethics ImaginaryWhat if social justice were a core value for engineers? Is it possible, or desirable, to canonizesocial justice in a professional code? In this thought experiment, I borrow directly and largelyverbatim from the ethics code of the National Association of Social Workers, for whom socialjustice is a core value, as well as incorporating prior work of scholars in the Engineering, SocialJustice, and Peace community ( to generate and explore new values, principles, andstandards that reflect potential social justice aspirations for engineers. The following fiveprinciples will be explored (the first four from NASW and the last from Catalano): • Engineers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems • Engineers challenge social injustice • Engineers respect the dignity and worth of each person • Engineers recognize the central importance of human relationships • Engineers seek to live in peace with their individual selves, others, and the planetThe proposed canons will include articulation of values, statements of principles, and elaborationof standards. Examples to be considered for the final paper include the following (again testinghow closely NASW language can fit engineers): • Engineers shall volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service). This pro bono service shall constitute at least 5% of their employed hours in engineering positions. • Engineers shall demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to dynamics of difference, power, and privilege among people and cultural groups. • Engineers may engage in organized social and political action, including the formation of and participation in labor unions, to improve services to clients and society, and to improve their own working conditions. • Engineers shall promote the general welfare of society, from local to global levels, and the development of people, their communities, and their environments on their own terms. Following the lead of communities, engineers shall advocate for and work to bring about living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs and shall promote social, socio-technical, economic, political, and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice. • Engineers shall facilitate informed participation by the public in sociotechnical projects, policies, and institutions, with special regard for vulnerable, disadvantaged, oppressed, and exploited people and groups. • Engineers shall not participate in nor remain complicit with projects that privatize public goods, and projects that further the military-industrial or prison-industrial complexes in the United States and abroad. • Engineers shall act to resist hegemonic power and systems of oppression, including but not limited to ableism, ageism, classism, gender normativity, heteronormativity, nationalism, racism, and sexism, and work to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class.

Riley, D. M., & Lambrinidou, Y. (2015, June), Canons against Cannons? Social Justice and the Engineering Ethics Imaginary Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23661

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