Upon Opening the Black Box of Participatory Design and Finding It Filled with Ethics

Marc Steen


In this essay, I bring together Participatory Design's (PD) tradition of critical reflection on one's own practices, and Science and Technology Studies' focus on specific activities ('opening the black box'), in order to explore the ethic of PD. I discuss three different forms of ethics-relational ethics, pragmatist ethics and virtue ethics-and provide several examples from practice, and argue that PD is 'filled with ethics': PD participants often find themselves in ethical situations and engage with ethics-even if they are unaware of these ethics and if these ethics remain implicit. I propose reflexivity as a way for PD practitioners to cope more explicitly and mindfully with these ethics.


Participatory design; Science and Technology Studies; Reflexivity; Ethics

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