Abstract: Analysis of systemic harms and injustices often focuses on identifying the individual or group agents involved and allocating responsibility. I argue that this approach can distort our understanding of the problem. Specifically, it means we fail to attend to those features of systems that cannot be unpacked in terms of individual or group agent responsibility. I illustrate the argument using the example of Australia’s surgical training system. In Australia there are well documented problems with bullying, harassment, and unsafe work hours in surgical training. By mapping the system, it is possible to identify how processes such as feedback loops and tensions between the objectives of various parts of the system drive the production of specific harms and injustices. In this mapping I draw on both ‘structural’ metaphors, which are prevalent in the literature (e.g. Haslanger 2016) and ‘mechanical’ metaphors, which emphasise processes and the way systems move. I finish with a discussion of what it might mean to centre systems (rather than agents) when analysing and responding to systemic harms and injustices.
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