Google Books as Infrastructure of In/justice: Towards a Sociotechnical Account of Rawlsian Justice, Information, and Technology

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Hoffmann, Anna Lauren
Google Books; Information Technology; Infrastructure; John Rawls; Self-Respect; Social Justice; Databases and Information Systems; Library and Information Science; Philosophy
thesis / dissertation description
The Google Books project is germane for examining underappreciated dimensions of social justice and access to information from a Rawlsian perspective. To date, however, the standard account of Rawls as applied to information and technology has focused almost exclusively on rights to access and information as a primary good (Drahos 1996; van den Hoven and Rooksby 2008; Duff 2011). In this dissertation, the author develops an alternative to the standard account--the sociotechnical account--that draws on underappreciated resources available within discussions of Rawls' work. Specifically, the author focuses on the importance of Rawls' basic structure argument and the value of self-respect--two ideas that figure prominently in Rawls' theory and have been discussed extensively by its critics. After developing this alternative account, the author undertakes a disclosive ethical analysis of Google Books from a social justice perspective. As a method, disclosive ethics is concerned with identifying morally opaque features of artifacts and systems. Following Brey (2000; 2010), the analysis proceeds along three levels: theoretical, disclosure, and application. At the theoretical level, extant Rawlsian applications are scrutinized and rearticulated in light of advanced informational and technological practices. At the disclosure level, morally opaque dimensions of Google Books are disclosed as relevant to self-respect and social justice. In particular, the author focuses on three dimensions of the Books project that would go otherwise overlooked on the standard account of Rawls: quality of scans and metadata, visibility of indexes in Books' preview mode, and Google's conception of the value of information. At the application level, disclosed dimensions are examined according to both the standard and sociotechnical accounts. Ultimately, the author shows how, on a sociotechnical account, these three dimensions of Google Books raise otherwise overlooked questions regarding social justice, information, and technology today.