Towards a Material Ethics of Computing

Addressing the Uneven Environmental Stakes of Digital Infrastructures
CHI 2022 hybrid workshop

This event is a one-day hybrid workshop aimed at contributing to and developing a shared material ethics for HCI. Material ethics is envisioned as a set of commitments and practices that centers the relations between material and labor that form and shape digital infrastructures. As the environmental impacts of ICT loom large, it is all the more important to consider the intersections between workers and environments across all stages of tech’s supply chains and aftermaths. We therefore ask: How do environments influence and constrain the way computing technologies are designed, produced, maintained, repaired, and circulated? And how do digital infrastructures affect our knowledge of environmental and labour developments and dynamics? Our workshop welcomes researchers and practitioners to collectively think through these questions and other questions around values, knowledge, and political economy to understand the environmental impacts of HCI.

Workshop participants will have the option to submit a 2 - 4 page position paper in ACM submission format, or submit a multimodal piece with an approximately 200-word biography and 300-word description of the piece (e.g. drawing with caption, a combination of poetry or video work with written text, or even soundscape recording with written elaboration). The submission will respond to a series of prompts which include:

Send any questions and/or your application here:

Read full version of workshop proposal here.

Workshop Activities:

The workshop will begin with introductions and brief research presentations by participants to introduce their interests in relation to our workshop topic. We will then start a mapping exercise where the goal is to see how our projects are interconnected. The goals of this activity is to deepen our understanding of each other’s research interests and begin to develop a shared collectivist vision for material ethics. The design of this exercise draws from Joseph Dumit’s implosion writing exercise that aims to “teach and learn about the embeddedness of objects, facts, actions, and people in the world and the world in them." The workshop group will be split into smaller groups, where each group includes members who are participating virtually or in person. We will then use a collaborative application such as Google Jamboard or Miro to visualize the connections between our projects and research interests. We will then reconvene as the full group to share our visualizations.

The workshop will then transition to a keyword activity. The goal of this activity is to identify and define shared vocabulary to build a glossary around material ethics. As a full group, we will first brainstorm potential keywords. Then, working in smaller groups that consist of virtual and in-person attendees, we will work towards defining these terms. These terms will be placed in a shared document such as Google Docs or Etherpad that will be shared with the entire workshop group.

At the end of the workshop, participants will re-group to reflect on their workshop experience. During this reflection time, we will also create working groups, these groups will be aligned around emerging themes over the course of the workshop. The goal of these working groups is to create spaces for researchers and practitioners who have overlapping research interests to convene post-workshop. Potential activities for these working groups include reading and writing groups, in addition to collaborations for research grants and projects.


Jen Liu is a PhD student in the Information Science department at Cornell University. Her work studies the ecological, social, and political implications of computing technologies and infrastructures.

Cindy Lin is a postdoctoral fellow at the Atkinson Center for Sustainability and Department of Information Science at Cornell University. Her current research focuses on the genealogies of ground truth in artificial intelligence (AI) systems deployed within the environmental sciences.

Anne Pasek is the Canada Research Chair in Media, Culture, and the Environment at Trent University. She studies how carbon becomes communicable to different communities, to different social and material effects.

Robert Soden is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science and the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto. His work draws on the arts, social sciences, and humanities to evaluate and improve the design of the ICTs we used to understand and respond to environmental challenges like disasters and climate change.

Lace Padilla is an Assistant Professor at the University of California Merced. Her program focuses on how people make uncertain decisions with forecast visualizations to improve data transparency and uncertainty literacy.

Daniela Rosner is an Associate Professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) at the University of Washington and co-director of the Tactile and Tactical Design (TAT) Lab. Her work investigates the social, political, and material circumstances of technology development and use.

Steve Jackson is an Associate Professor of Information Science and Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. His work combines ethnographic, legal and theoretical traditions grounded in pragmatism and critical theory with an overall interest in how people build and maintain order, value and meaning in and with the worlds around them.

🚨 Important Dates:🚨

Call for participation release: December 16, 2021
Participant pplications due: February 24, 2022
Participant notification: March 12, 2022
Workshop date: Sunday, May 1, 2022

Preliminary Schedule: (all times in Central Time)

Time Activity
10 - 11 am Intros and brief presentations
11 - 11:15 am Break
11:15 - 12:30 pm Mapping activity
12:30 - 1:30 pm Lunch
1:30 - 2:15 pm Keywords activity
2:15 - 2:30 pm Break
2:30 - 3:15 pm Continue keyword activity
3:15 - 4 pm Wrap up and reflections