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Towards a post-human intra-actional account of sociomaterial agency (and morality)

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Publication date2014
Host publicationThe moral status of technical artefacts
EditorsPeter Kroes, Peter-Paul Verbeek
Place of PublicationDordrecht
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9789400779143
ISBN (Print)9789400779136
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In the history of ethical thought there has always been an intimate relationship between agency and questions of morality. But what does this mean for artefacts? It would not be too controversial to claim that the idea that artefacts have, or embody, some level of agency—even if it is very limited or derived in some way—has become generally accepted. However, there still seems to be wide disagreements as to what is meant by the agency of artefacts, how it is accounted for, and the subsequent moral implications of such agency. I will suggest that one’s account of the agency of artefacts is fundamental to the subsequent discussion of the moral status and implications of artefacts, or technology more generally. In this contribution I will outline two different accounts of sociomaterial agency: (a) a human-centred inter-actional account (Johnson and VSD) and (b) a post-human intra-actional account (drawing on Latour, Barad and Heidegger). I will show that the post-human intra-actional account of sociomaterial agency posits the social and technical as ontologically inseparable from the start. Such a position has important implications for how one might understand sociomaterial agency and how one might deal with it. I will propose that the authors in the post-human approach all share what I call a ‘co-constitutive’ account of agency in which agency is not an attribute of the human or the technical as such but rather the outcome of intra-action. I will endeavour to illustrate the implications of such an account for our understanding of sociomaterial agency by considering the phenomenon of plagiarism detection. I will conclude by proposing disclosive ethics (in particular disclosive archaeology) as a possible way forward in dealing with the ethical and political implications of post-human intra-agencies.