Corporate Selves: Personhood, Agency, and Ethics in Controversial Technoscientific Work


When we experience the harms engendered by technoscientific corporations, it is common practice to attribute blame to both the corporation as a whole as well as to the particular individuals in its employ. The same can be said for our praise of acts of responsibility. For example, we may commend “Facebook” for using renewable energy to power its data centers or criticize “Facebook” for destabilizing democratic processes, but we also celebrate Frances Haugen blowing the whistle on the company’s blatant disregard for the wellbeing of its most vulnerable users. In this webinar, Professor Jessica Smith will explain how these practices cast both complex corporate entities and employees in the mold of Western individualism, obscuring the fundamentally relational nature of the personhood experienced by corporate actors: they are not always authors of their own actions and frequently have to act through others. A key, but overlooked, dimension of engineers’ practices of accountability is their everyday efforts to create collectivities that they can live with – and through.

Jessica M. Smith is an anthropologist and STS scholar whose research interests center on energy ethics, engineering, and public accountability. She is Associate Professor in the Engineering, Design & Society Department at the Colorado School of Mines, where she also directs the Humanitarian Engineering and Science graduate program. She is the author of Extracting Accountability: Engineers and Corporate Social Responsibility (MIT Press, 2021), which was funded by the National Science Foundation and British Academy; Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West (Rutgers, 2014), funded by the NSF and the National Endowment for the Humanities; and multiple journal special issues on energy ethics.

Dr. Smith will be joined by Dr. Gwen Ottinger, Associate Professor at Drexel University, in the Department of Politics and the Center for Science, Technology, and Society. She directs the Fair Tech Collective, a research group that uses social science theory and methods to promote social justice in science and technology, and is author of Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges. The webinar will be hosted by Dr. Caitlin Wylie, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

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Funded by the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at UVA

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