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New paper published: Transparency and Development: Ethical Consumption through Web 2.0 and the Internet of Things

A paper that I co-wrote with Håvard Haarstad has just been published in a special issue of ITID on Open Development.

Commentators are now pointing to the potential for a globalization of knowledge and transparency that will harness the power of the Internet to allow consumers to learn more about the commodities they buy. This article discusses the potential for emergent Web 2.0 technologies to transcend barriers of time and space, both to facilitate flows of information about the chains of commodities, and to open up potential politics of consumer activism, particularly to influence the way goods that originate in the Global South are produced. We argue that these prospects are ultimately tempered by a number of persistent barriers to the creation and transmission of information about commodities (infrastructure and access, actors’ capacities, the continued role of infomediaries, and intelligent capture and use by consumers).

You can download a copy of the paper from the link below:

Transparency and Development: Ethical Consumption through Web 2.0 and the Internet of Things

Snap and Search: Using images to constuct links between the material and virtual
“Our goal is for Goggles to recognize every image. This is really the beginning” - Vic Gundotra, Google vice president in charge of mobile phones.

Yesterday the NYT reported that Google has recently unveiled a new app called Goggles. The software allows anyone to upload a photo from a mobile and then be returned detailed information about the subject of the photo.


Many similar ideas to connect the material and virtual realms already exist. However, most of those technological practices rely on more complicated infrastructures (e.g. QR codes, compasses, GPS etc.). Here, all that is needed is a camera-phone and an internet connection.

The release of Goggles therefore lends a lot of support to Tim O'Reilly’s argument that networked peer-produced information will increasingly be used as a way of “brute-forcing identity out of reality.”

The app can also be used to locate more than just famous landmarks. It can also be employed to take photos of commodities (and any other material objects) in order to link them to virtual information. A practice that could potentially lead to a fundamentally altered politics of consumption.
Ethical Consumption and Production through Web 2.0: A Call for Participation

I have just finished writing a Call for Participation that will be published in the Autumn 2009 Development Geographies Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers newsletter. The purpose behind the short piece is to encourage geographers to contribute their expertise about any node on any commodity chain to the wikichains project. We already have a small amount of content in English, Spanish and French, and so it would be nice to only have more English-language content, but also content in any of the eight languages supported by the site. A section of the CFP is posted below:

There are isolated cases in which the media have brought issues such as child labor and poor environmental management to much of the world’s attention. For instance, TNCs like Nike, Mattel, and Shell have been forced to alter their production practices in Vietnam, Sumatra, and the Niger Delta due to sustained media pressure. But what forms would economic development take if information about many more sites of production was made easily available through the Internet and Web 2.0 frameworks? It is conceivable that both the production and consumption of commodities would become fundamentally altered. As such, a wiki website (www.wikichains.com) has been set up with the aim of encouraging a different type of globalization: a globalization of knowledge that will harness the power of the Internet and cloud collaboration in order to allow consumers to learn more about the commodities that they buy. By doing so, it is further hoped that altered consumer behavior will translate into improved economic, social, and environmental production practices in the Global South.

The basic framework of the website has now been implemented using the Mediawiki software (the web-based software also used by Wikipedia). Wikichains thus allows anyone with an Internet connection to create, alter, and challenge information about any commodity chain. Furthermore, the website currently supports eight languages (Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish), with the possibility to add more in the future. Some basic representations of chains have already been created (e.g. coffee, silk, and illegal drugs); however, we need are in need of much more content in order to bring about the critical mass necessary to get people from around the world to upload information about the nodes on chains that they are familiar with. Thus this contribution to the 2009 DGSG newsletter invites all geographers with an interest in the goal of this project to not only upload information about any node on any commodity chain that they are familiar with, but also to share the site with friends and colleagues that may also have an interest in contributing.