, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 235-248

Imagination, distributed responsibility and vulnerable technological systems: the case of Snorre A

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Abstract

An influential approach to engineering ethics is based on codes of ethics and the application of moral principles by individual practitioners. However, to better understand the ethical problems of complex technological systems and the moral reasoning involved in such contexts, we need other tools as well. In this article, we consider the role of imagination and develop a concept of distributed responsibility in order to capture a broader range of human abilities and dimensions of moral responsibility. We show that in the case of Snorre A, a near-disaster with an oil and gas production installation, imagination played a crucial and morally relevant role in how the crew coped with the crisis. For example, we discuss the role of scenarios and images in the moral reasoning and discussion of the platform crew in coping with the crisis. Moreover, we argue that responsibility for increased system vulnerability, turning an undesired event into a near-disaster, should not be ascribed exclusively, for example to individual engineers alone, but should be understood as distributed between various actors, levels and times. We conclude that both managers and engineers need imagination to transcend their disciplinary perspectives in order to improve the robustness of their organisations and to be better prepared for crisis situations. We recommend that education and training programmes should be transformed accordingly.