What is gained by articulating non-canonical engineering ethics canons?

Donna M. Riley, Amy E. Slaton, Joseph R. Herkert

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

9 Scopus citations


As organizers of the special session on non-canonical canons in engineering ethics, we explore in this paper the processes by which professional societies develop Codes of Ethics, and how institutional power shapes both processes and outcomes. In analyzing specific episodes of canon formation, such as the process that resulted in the omission of sustainability from the ASEE Code of Ethics (despite a separate ASEE board statement on sustainable development in 1999), and the process that resulted in the recent addition of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the IEEE Code of Ethics, we hope to reveal the ways in which ethical work in engineering (as in other settings) is always preceded by demarcation of boundaries. Who counts as a moral agent? Who is subject to the code? Does the code imply collective as well as individual responsibility? Who has standing to raise concerns? Who has clout to shape the code? Moving from analysis to action, this paper explores what it means to create an alternative, a "shadow code" that lives outside the canonical articulation of engineering ethics by professional societies. Such an alternative or non-canonical list might directly reframe existing priorities (say, inserting health or sustainability concerns across a wide range of ethical instructions for engineers) or introduce entirely new, previously unspeakable priorities (say, the notion that in any given case of engineering practice, the most ethical action may be to choose not to undertake an engineering project in that time or place). While we might count it a victory for some of the non-canonical canons to move, in time, into the accepted professional society codes, that is the not the primary purpose of creating this alternative stream of ideals in engineering ethics. Rather we hope to illuminate the political nature of the process, the ways insider-outsider dynamics play out in professional societies, and the contestation of what counts and does not count as engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Making Value for Society
PublisherAmerican Society for Engineering Education
StatePublished - 2015
Event2015 122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Seattle, United States
Duration: Jun 14 2015Jun 17 2015


Other2015 122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
Country/TerritoryUnited States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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