Infrastructural Justice for Responsible Software Engineering

Robinson, Sarah; Buckley, Jim; Ciolfi, Luigina; Linehan, Conor; McInerney, Clare; Nuseibeh, Bashar; Twomey, John; Rauf, Irum and McCarthy, John (2024). Infrastructural Justice for Responsible Software Engineering. Journal of Responsible Technology, 19, article no. 100087.



In recent years, we have seen many examples of software products unintentionally causing demonstrable harm. Many guidelines for ethical and responsible computing have been developed in response. Dominant approaches typically attribute liability and blame to individual companies or actors, rather than understanding how the working practices, norms, and cultural understandings in the software industry contribute to such outcomes. In this paper, we propose an understanding of responsibility that is infrastructural, relational, and cultural; thus, providing a foundation to better enable responsible software engineering into the future. Our approach draws on Young's (Young, 2006) social connection model of responsibility and Star and colleagues’ (Star and Ruhleder, 1994) concept of infrastructure. By bringing these theories together we introduce a concept called infrastructural injustice, which offers a new way for software engineers to consider their opportunities for responsible action with respect to society and the planet. We illustrate the utility of this approach by applying it to an Open-Source software communities’ development of Deepfake technology, to find key leverage points of responsibility that are relevant to both Deepfake technology and software engineering more broadly.

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