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New publication: Geographies of Connectivity in East Africa: Trains, Telecommunications, and Technological Teleologies
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I’m very happy to announce that a paper that I co-authored with Casper Andersen and Laura Mann has been accepted for publication in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Graham, M., Andersen, C., and Mann, L. 2015 Geographical Imagination and Technological Connectivity in East Africa. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40(3) 334-349. (pre-publication version here).

The paper analyses and compares two transformative moments of technologically-mediated change in East Africa, the construction of the Uganda railway between Mombasa and Lake Victoria (1896-1903) and the introduction of fibre-optic cables that landed into the ports of Dar Es Salaam and Mombasa in 2009. 

It uses discourse analysis to examine how technologically-mediated connectivity has been represented by political and economic actors during these transformative moments. In both cases, we explore the origins of the expectations of connectivity and the hope and fear associated with them. 

Building on Massey’s notion of power-geometry and Sheppard’s concept of positionality the paper focuses on power relationships in discussions of connectivity and asks how people understand the abilities of transformative technologies to modify positionalities and alter relational distance and proximity. Ultimately, by examining historical and contemporary expectations of connectivity in East Africa, this paper allows us to work towards creating more grounded and historicised understandings of the coming-together of technology and connectivity.

Introducing GEONET: studying Sub-Saharan Africa's knowledge economies
I’m happy to announce the launch of the new GEONET project: studying ‘Changing Connectivities and the Potentials of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Knowledge Economy.’

This five-year project, funded by an ERC Starting Grant, aims to understand the difference that changing connectivities are having on Sub-Saharan Africa’s emerging information economies.
For a full introduction of the project, and associated team members, please head over to the Geonet site to take a look: geonet.oii.ox.ac.uk

We have a great group of researchers assembled, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish over the next few years.

AAG 2015 CFP - From Online Sweat Shops to Silicon Savannahs: Geographies of Production in Digital Economies of Low-Income Countries


From Online Sweat Shops to Silicon Savannahs: 
Geographies of Production in Digital Economies of Low-Income Countries

AAG Annual Meeting, Chicago, April 21-25, 2015

Organizers:
Mark Graham, Nicolas Friederici, and Isis Hjorth University of Oxford

Throughout the early 21st century, Internet and mobile phone access in developing countries has skyrocketed, and today the majority of people on the planet are connected through information and communication technologies (ICTs). Yet, while basic ICT access is increasingly level across income groups and geographies, production in the global digital economy is still, and maybe increasingly, dominated by incumbent multinational technology corporations or fast-scaling web startups. These businesses tend to roll out their products (with some local adaptation) across the globe, but maintain their coordinating and creative activities in places like Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, or London, exploiting both agglomeration and dispersion economies in digital production (Malecki & Moriset, 2007; Moriset & Malecki, 2009).


How does digital production in low-income countries fare in the face of this dominance? Policymakers and the private sector in several low-income countries (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa) have set out to transform their economies through ICTs, explicitly emphasizing local digital production. Two sectors that are often seen as promising are (1) low-skill/cost-competition, such as business process outsourcing and digital microwork, and (2) high-skill/entrepreneurial innovation, such as startups developing and commercializing mobile and online applications.


However, what are the concrete and realistic potentials and possibilities for low-income countries to become important hubs for digital production? What are palpable economic outcomes of Kenya’s status as the “Silicon Savannah” or Lagos as the “Silicon Lagoon,” and who are the winners and losers of local ICT entrepreneurship and innovation? Do ICTs really deliver economic inclusion and employment to remote geographies and low-income groups, or are we witnessing the rise of online sweatshops that further enhance exploitation of vulnerable populations?


This session will explore these themes, encouraging contributions from a variety of perspectives. We invite authors to consider digital production in low-income/developing countries through lenses such as:

  • Empirical or theoretical perspectives on digital production and its (uneven) geographies
  • Discourse around digital production and its promises and risks
  • Distributions of value creation and extraction across actor groups (winners/losers)
  • Tensions of scaling versus local adaptation in digital production, in application to geography and inclusion/exclusion effects
  • Uneven production geographies within countries, in particular, differences and divides between rural/peri-urban/urban clusters
  • Socio-demographic analyses of economic actors engaging in digital production
  • Case studies of low-skill/cost-competition digital production (e.g., business process outsourcing, microwork, etc.)
  • Case studies of high-skill/entrepreneurial innovation in digital production (e.g., mobile/online applications startups, technology innovation hubs)
  • Analyses and recommendations for local and international policy pertaining to digital production

To be considered for the session, please send your abstract of 250 words or fewer, to: mark.graham@oii.ox.ac.uk, nicolas.friederici@oii.ox.ac.uk, and isis.hjorth@oii.ox.ac.uk

The deadline for receipt of abstracts is October 1 2014. Notification of acceptance will be before October 7. All accepted papers will then need to register for the AAG conference at aag.org. Accepted papers will be considered for a special issue or edited volume edited by the organizers.
 


Malecki, E. J., & Moriset, B. (2007). The paradox of a “double-edged” geography: local ecosystems of the digital economy. In The Digital Economy: Business Organization, Production Processes and Regional Developments (pp. 174–198). New York, NY: Routledge.
Moriset, B., & Malecki, E. J. (2009). Organization versus Space: The Paradoxical Geographies of the Digital Economy. Geography Compass, 3(1), 256–274.

Final Project Report: Promises of Fibre-Optic Broadband in the Kenyan Tourism and Tea Sectors
My colleagues Professor Timothy Waema and Charles Katua at the University of Nairobi have recently finished a report describing and summarising some of their research into the effects of changing connectivity in the Kenyan tea and tourism sectors.

You can find the full report below, and we would welcome any feedback that you might have:

Waema, T. and Katua, C. 2014. The Promises of Fibre-Optic Broadband in Tourism and Tea Sectors: A Pipeline for Economic Development in East Africa.

The report comes out of our larger project looking at ‘development’ and broadband internet access in East Africa. In the next few months, Chris Foster, Nicolas Friederici, and I will also be releasing reports looking at changing connectivity in the tea and tourism sectors of Rwanda, and the implications of changing connectivity on Kenya and Rwanda’s Business Process Outsourcing sector.