Laufzeit 10/2014-09/2017

RFID & Society

Ethical and societal challenges of implementing localization systems of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technologies for intelligent process control

Project collaborators: Ulrike Felt, Susanne Öchsner

FFG - Österreichische Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft

Project Description

Over the past decade Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technologies have entered our work and life environments in a wide range of production and distribution contexts, ranging from car production chains, over electronic toll collection systems to fashion industry. Using tags as carriers of information, they are meant to help to automatically identify and track objects within and across sites. What sounds like a real technological advancement for realizing better automated production processes or of easy control of objects and stocks, it also poses a number of challenges when it comes to asking questions concerning ethical and societal aspects related to such realizations. To investigate these latter aspects during the development of a specific RFID tracking technology is the main aim of the "RFID & Society" project.

"RFID & Society" is thus an integral part of the larger FFG-funded project REFlex (coordinated by Holger Arthaber, TU Vienna) which investigates a localization system of passive RFID tags for an intelligent process control system. The real-time tracking of components, tools, and products is understood as a key technology to optimize work flows, e.g. in flexible manufacturing.

In close collaboration with our technical project partners and by employing an ethnographic approach, we will in particular analyze (1) what imaginations of future application contexts - and thus which values, categorizations and imaginations of order - are involved in the development, production and distribution of this specific technological innovation and how they get "scripted" into the technological application; and (2) which ethical and societal problem areas could arise in concrete situations/moments of potential implementation.

In performing such an analysis, we make a case for a situated approach to an understanding of ethical issues at stake, and not to work with classifying a technological application as per se problematic. We thus do not start from a normative grid against which a technology needs to be assessed. Much rather we see ethical and societal challenges as emerging in specific situated and often quite complex assemblages of people, objects, values, (infra-)structures and economic orders. In that sense we want to reflect on what makes RFID "an appropriate technology", i.e. a technology which does not only answer to the technological and market challenge but also to the ethical and societal ones – and all this within a specific context. Such an approach also means that the interaction and reflection with the researchers, developers and producers is an integral part of the project.

Conference presentations/talks

Felt, U. and S. Öchsner (2015) Reordering the "World of Things"? A Sociotechnical Imaginary of RFID in the Making. International Conference: Living in Technoscientific Worlds. Vienna 3-5 December 2015.


Ulrike Felt or Susanne Öchsner
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Tel: +43 1 4277-49611 or -49622