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Digital Economies at Global Margins
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I am happy to announce that my new edited book 'Digital Economies at Global Margins' is now out!

It was a pleasure working with so many brilliant thinkers and scholars who produced the critical and cutting-edge research you’ll find in the book. A huge thanks to all of the authors who contributed.

Below you can find a brief summary. To see the table of contents, head over the the IDRC or MIT websites where you can also download it for free or buy the paper version.

Digital Economies at Global Margins
Over the last five years, more than one billion people became new Internet users. Once, digital connectivity was confined to economically prosperous parts of the world; now Internet users make up a majority of the world’s population. In this book, contributors from a range of disciplines and locations investigate the impact of increased digital connectivity on people and places at the world’s economic margins. Does the advent of a digitalized economy mean that those in economic peripheries can transcend spatial, organizational, social, and political constraints—or do digital tools and techniques tend to reinforce existing inequalities?

The contributors present a diverse set of case studies, reporting on digitalization in countries ranging from Chile to Kenya to the Philippines, and develop a broad range of theoretical positions. They consider, among other things, data-driven disintermediation, women’s economic empowerment and gendered power relations, digital humanitarianism and philanthropic capitalism, the spread of innovation hubs, hackathons, the gig economy, and a rethinking of how a more progressive politics of connectivity could look.

Three visions for how information and communication technologies alter positionalities at global economic margins

I'm currently working on a book chapter about our 'digital labour and gig economy' research. The chapter attempts to contextualise plans and projects to expand digital labour schemes by governments, third-sector organisations, and private sector actors. In writing the chapter, I thought it would be useful to outline the three broad perspectives that I have encountered in previous research. 

Imaginaries of the ways that technologies alter positionalities at the world’s economic margins are used to open up or limit possibilities. They are used to drive policies and plans; and they are deployed to shift attention and resources in some directions and away from others. It is therefore worth thinking about the nature of them, and what sort of changes they actually propose to bring into being. 

The three outlined below are taken from the following paper.

Graham, M. 2015. Contradictory Connectivity: Spatial Imaginaries and Techno-Mediated Positionalities in Kenya's Outsourcing Sector. Environment and Planning A 47 867-883 (pre-publicaion version here).

But I'd welcome other directions and other readings as edit this chapter.

The global village

This is one of the most persistent visions underpinning hopes about transformations that the internet can bring about. Built on Barlow’s (1996) vision of the internet as an ontic space in which states ‘have no sovereignty where we gather’. The global village allows any connected economic actor to be brought into a shared digital market space or communications space. Positionalities can be transcended and barriers to non-proximate interactions have technical fixes. The global village imaginary allows for a vision that anything can be done from anywhere.

Shrinking distance

This vision centres on the perceived ways in which technology would shrink geographic frictions with richer, faster, and cheaper connections and those diminishing frictions, in turn, lead conceptions of distance as a unit that can be shrunk. In other words, frictions between places are seen to be significant impediments holding back trade; and information and communication technologies (ICTs) not only eliminate those frictions, but facilitate and mediate a global economy. While this perspective shares much in common with the global village, there are significant differences between the two. Both perspectives attribute significant power and agency to technology and allow it to function as a bridge, intermediary, or tool that can fundamentally transform positionalities. Both highlight how the location of a business or businessperson could be rendered irrelevant: business can now be transacted with anyone, anywhere. However, while the global village perspective explains this change because of access to the Internet, the shrinking distance perspective makes the same argument with a focus instead on the diminishing role that distance plays. In the former, geographic positionality no longer matters (hence the temptation to assign an ontic role to digital spaces), whereas, in the latter, geographic positionalities retain more significance: the world here remains material and augmented (rather than as a dualism between virtual and material spaces), but distance between those material places becomes less important. The shrinking distance perspective ultimately presents a world of potential. The old barriers
of distance and geography, that previously rendered some places as peripheries and some places as cores, have melted away; and it is only a matter of time before people in economic margins can begin to buy, sell, and interact with anyone, anywhere

Digital augmentations

Finally, there are visions of digital augmentations in which economic actors neither imagine a digital global village in which they can interact with their peers, or a world in which distance had become meaningless. Instead, they focus on the incremental changes brought about by ICTs and the ways in which those changes are embedded into existing networks, structures, and positionalities. The primary argument put forward here is that distance is just one hurdle to cross. As such, the ability of ICTs to mediate new types of communication and information flow is of necessarily limited benefit. This recognition of the myriad social, economic, and political challenges inherent to doing business across international borders results in a conceptualization of distance as always socially constructed and always grounded in individual contingencies and positionalities. In other words, we are offered a more modest view of what new communications affordances can achieve. There is no sense that human territoriality can be replaced by communication technologies, and there is a full recognition of the fully augmented and relational links between technology, space, and economic activity.
 

Related readings

Smart, C., Donner, J., and Graham, M. 2016. Connecting the World from the Sky: Spatial Discourses Around Internet Access in the Developing World. Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2909609.2909659

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).

Graham, M. 2013. Geography/Internet: Ethereal Alternate Dimensions of Cyberspace or Grounded Augmented Realities? The Geographical Journal 179(2) 177-182(pre-publication version here).

Graham, M. 2011. Time Machines and Virtual Portals: The Spatialities of the Digital DivideProgress in Development Studies. 11 (3). 211-227.

Graham, M. 2008. Warped Geographies of Development: The Internet and Theories of Economic Development. Geography Compass, 2(3), 771-789.

Power, politics and digital development (our DSA 2016 sessions)

We’ve pulled together a fantastic group of papers for the upcoming DSA meeting in Oxford:

Convenors

  • Richard Heeks (University of Manchester) email
  • Mark Graham (University of Oxford) email
  • Ben Ramalingam (Institute of Development Studies) email

Short Abstract

Covers the broad intersection of power, politics and digital development including both directionalities - the impact of power and politics on design, diffusion, implementation and outcomes of ICT application; and the impact of ICT application on power and politics - and their mutual interaction.

Long Abstract

Digital Dividends" - the 2016 World Development Report - finds the benefits of digital development to be unevenly distributed, and identifies emergent “digital ills”. The cause in both cases is inequalities of power in economic and political arenas including vested interests, digital monopolies, lack of citizen voice vis-a-vis the state, and other factors.

This panel invites papers at the broad intersection of power, politics and digital development including both directionalities - the impact of power and politics on design, diffusion, implementation and outcomes of ICT application; and the impact of ICT application on power and politics - and their mutual interaction.

We welcome work anywhere along the spectrum from the micro-exercise of power within individual ICT4D initiatives through the politics of national ICT-using organisations and institutions to global Internet governance. Other topics for papers might include but are not limited to:

- The organisational politics of ICT4D

- Digital resources as foundations of power in development

- Reproduction and transformation of power and inequality through digital development

- Digital development discourse as a source and reflection of power

- The institutional logics that conflict and contest to shape digital development

- How national and international ICT policies address and express issues of power

Papers

U.S. Foreign Policy and the Internet: Chronicling the Shift from Circumvention to Connectivity

Author: Deniz Duru Aydin (University of Oxford)  

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the evolution of Internet-related U.S. foreign policy and development agenda from Internet freedom to today’s Global Connect Initiative. The reasons for this policy shift are analyzed within the broader global context such as Snowden revelations and the recently adopted SDGs.

Configuring the users adapting the system: participation and ICT4D in Afghanistan

Author: Melanie Stilz (Technical University Berlin)  

Short Abstract

Participation is still almost exclusively defined from a donor perspective. How can those offering their help and resources enable participation by those receiving the support? In this paper I examine how “participation” is interpreted and executed in ICT project in the Afghan education sector.

Critical Agency in Digital Development

Author: Tony Roberts (United Nations University) 

Short Abstract

This paper uses critical theory to extend Sen’s capability approach and to argue that key to digital development should be enhancing people’s critical-agency i.e. their ability to critique and act upon any power and political constraints on their development.

Digital Politics, Institutional Logics and Development

Author: Richard Heeks (University of Manchester) 

Short Abstract

This paper illustrates, explains and draws conclusions from the six patterns that emerge from growth of digital politics in the global South; patterns of Copy, Spread, Curve, Boost, Shift and Hybrid between dominant competitive and subordinate cooperative institutional logics.

Digital technologies, power, and intermediaries in Myanmar and India

Authors: Elisa Oreglia (SOAS University of London)  
Janaki Srinivasan  

Short Abstract

Digital technologies that can disintermediate markets are now common in Myanmar and India and yet intermediaries and traditional practices still dominate rural markets. We explore the resilience of intermediaries and how digital technologies reinforce, and more rarely challenge, existing power hierarchies.

From Open Data to Empowerment: Lessons from Indonesia and the Philippines

Author: Michael Canares (World Wide Web Foundation)  

Short Abstract

Using case studies in the Philippines and Indonesia, this paper explains how and why open data can affect the spaces, places, and forms of power and how it provides avenues for citizens to exert efforts to reclaim its space in decision-making, agenda-setting, and meaning-making.

Identity, transparency and other visibilties: A liquid surveillance perspective of biometric technologies

Author: Shyam Krishna (Royal Holloway, University of London) 

Short Abstract

This paper studies ‘Aadhar’ – India’s national biometric digital identity program under a ‘liquid surveillance’ lens exploring surveillant power and associated politics of the project which seeks a seeming trade-off between citizen privacy and its modernist and developmentalist purpose.

Institutional isomorphism and organized hypocrisy in aid information management systems (AIMS): Case of Indonesia

Author: Kyung Ryul Park (LSE )  

Short Abstract

The study highlights the complexity of aid information management systems (AIMS), and explains its implementation and shutdown. By doing an in-depth qualitative study in Indonesia, it shows that AIMS is not mainly driven by a search for managerialistic gain, but motivated by external pressures.

Points-of-presence: Cloud giants in the datacenter-periphery

Authors: Rupert Brown (Prodiga Research)   

Short Abstract

We show the incursion of the big three cloud providers into African networks and illustrate flows and caches between regional peers. An investigation of Bandwidth-delivery and Security-ownership shows shadow technology, with services and instances, sidestepping local and national control.

Political Power and Digital Payments in a Government Social Social Cash Programme

Author: Atika Kemal (Anglia Ruskin University UK)   

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the effects of political power on the design and implementation of digital payments in a government social cash programme in Pakistan. It adopts an interpretive case study methodology to collect primary data through qualitative methods.

The Dialectics of Open Development

Authors: Yingqin Zheng   
Becky Faith (Institute of Development Studies)   

Short Abstract

This paper aims to provide a critical literature review on open development, explore the ideological assumptions, political foundations and economic forces behind open development, examine the challenges and unintended consequences, and consider the dialectics of boundaries in openness.

The Digital Politics of Development and Anonymous Online Power

Author: Brett Matulis (University of Leicester) 

Short Abstract

Development is an inherently political act that is both promoted and disputed through online media. With the rise of the “darknet” and anonymous digital activism, we are witnessing an important shift in power relations and a new phase in digital political resistance to development projects.

The Networkers of Outrage: a Demographic Survey of Indonesian Twitter Activists

Author: Lukas Schlogl (King’s College London) 

Short Abstract

This paper explores Twitter protest during a nationwide political controversy about Indonesia’s local direct elections. Drawing on novel survey data, it analyzes geo-demographic and socioeconomic determinants of political Twitter use and evaluates Twitter’s impact on Indonesia’s democracy.

The Struggle for Digital Inclusion: Phones, Healthcare, and Sharp Elbows in India

Author: Marco Haenssgen (Nuffield Department of Medicine) 

Short Abstract

I use an India-wide household panel to explore healthcare marginalisation among digitally excluded and included groups in rural areas. I find that phone diffusion creates a struggle that sharpens the elbows of those who are able to use the devices—provided the health system permits such use.

Unique Identification Number To A Billion Indians: Politics Around Identity, Data Sharing And Analytics

Authors: Ranjini Raghavendra 
Shirin Madon (LSE) 

Short Abstract

The paper focusses on issues of Identity, Data Sharing and Analytics within the world’s largest social identity programme namely Aadhar, in India.

What is Free about Free Basics?

Author: Jenna Keenan-Alspector (University of Colorado - Boulder) 

Short Abstract

Investigating how industry giants leverage power and increase inequalities, further straining the resources of the poor; a new ‘digital ill’ has risen: the emergence of the drug dealer of mobile broadband, Free Basics.