Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 525–538 | Cite as

What Next after Determinism in the Ontology of Technology? Distributing Responsibility in the Biofuel Debate

  • Philip BoucherEmail author


This article builds upon previous discussion of social and technical determinisms as implicit positions in the biofuel debate. To ensure these debates are balanced, it has been suggested that they should be designed to contain a variety of deterministic positions. Whilst it is agreed that determinism does not feature strongly in contemporary academic literatures, it is found that they have generally been superseded by an absence of any substantive conceptualisation of how the social shaping of technology may be related to, or occur alongside, an objective or autonomous reality. The problem of determinism emerges at an ontological level and must be resolved in situ. A critical realist approach to technology is presented which may provide a more appropriate framework for debate. In dialogue with previous discussion, the distribution of responsibility is revisited with reference to the role of scientists and engineers.


Technical determinism Social determinism Critical realism Technology Biofuels Responsibility 



I am gratefully indebted to Supergen (Sustainable Power Generation), which has provided financial support for this work, and all those at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester, particularly Paul Upham and Sally Randles. I also thank the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Manchester Institute of Innovation ResearchUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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