Situated Ethics in Development: STS Insights for a Pragmatic Approach to Development Policy and Practice

Elizabeth Ransom, Caitlin Grady, Lauren Trepanier, Carmen Bain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Technology has played a central role in development programming since the inception of development assistance. Recent development organizations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, believe technological innovation can improve development outcomes. Development ethics, a field of study focused on the ethical questions posed by development policies and practices, has yet to fully appreciate the ethical dimensions of the science and technology. Addressing this important research and policy gap, we contend that science and technology studies (STS) offers important insights that can be used in combination with development ethics to influence development policies and practices. Utilizing a case study of a private development program in Uganda, we illustrate how STS offers important insights for understanding how a sociotechnical ensemble placed pressure on already scarce water resources. Two dimensions of STS scholarship, the power asymmetries of technological development and the incomplete or partial nature of technoscientific knowledge, are examined and help us to understand how sociotechnical ensembles in development increase the likelihood of the emergence of publics who are negatively impacted by sociotechnical ensembles in development programs. Leveraging STS insights, we argue for the importance of situated ethics—a pragmatic approach to ensuring responsiveness to the emergence of these publics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)190-211
Number of pages22
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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