Towards Empathy: A Human-Centred Analysis of Rationality, Ethics and Praxis in Systems Development

P.J. Carew, L. Stapleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Functionalism has long been the dominant paradigm in systems development practice. However, functionalism promotes an innate and immutable instrumental rationality that is indifferent to human values, rights, society, culture and international stability. It, in essence, lacks empathy. Although alternative paradigms have been promoted for decades in the systems development literature to help address this deficit, functionalism remains dominant. This paper reiterates the call for a fundamental paradigm shift away from myopic functionalism and towards a more empathic and human-centred philosophy. It argues that the human-centred tradition offers a philosophically compatible and mature approach that can be practically harnessed for promoting empathy in systems development. The paper investigates the potential of systems development to become truly human-centred using data originally collected as part of a multi-method critical-interpretive study of privacy in information systems development. Multiple methods are used for the data analysis presented, including principal components analysis, hierarchical clustering, Q methodology and descriptive statistics. The multi-method analysis demonstrates that a marked discreteness exists between human-centred sentiments and instrumentally rational ones in systems development praxis. The paper concludes by presenting recommendations on how human-centred values can be practically fostered and engaged to enable greater empathy in contemporary system development and strengthen international stability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-166
JournalAI and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


  • Hierarchical clustering, empathy, ethics, human-centred, principal components analysis, Q methodology, rationality, systems development.


Dive into the research topics of 'Towards Empathy: A Human-Centred Analysis of Rationality, Ethics and Praxis in Systems Development'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this