Heroes or Sibyls? Gender and engineering ethics

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Adam, Alison


IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Volume 20, Issue 3, p.39-46 (2001)




Interest in gender as an analytical category in the study of engineering has grown rapidly through continuing concerns about the low numbers of women in the profession. What would a gender-informed engineering ethics look like? In exploring this question, my aim is to think about how these concerns translate into engineering ethics and thereby to demonstrate that certain constructs may not serve men and women equally well. Hence, exploring such tensions and making novel connections between engineering ethics and feminist ethics can offer the beginnings of a gender-aware and ultimately more inclusive ethics for engineering. To achieve this, I examine one aspect of contemporary thinking in engineering ethics in terms of the "moral hero". The moral hero tends to be not only strongly masculine but also very individualistic. However, as recent writings on feminist ethics argue against hegemonic masculinity and the inherent individualism it often entails, I offer two alternatives. The first is a consideration of the possibilities inherent in care ethics for a more collective and less overtly masculine theme for engineering and technology ethics. The second is a classical concept, in terms of the "Sibyl", the ancient prophetess or oracle, which may be particularly useful in understanding the historical exclusion of women from technical disciplines, and which also may inspire alternative moral decision heuristics, although she is not a symbol that emphasizes collectivity in ethics.