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Launching the 2017 ICT4D Seminar Series
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You can now sign up for the 2017 ICT4D seminar series at the Oxford Internet Institute. I've put this year's list together with my colleague Sanna Ojanperä. This also marks the fourth year that we have been running the series! You can watch webcasts of dozens of past talks here

Title: Spatializing publics: mobile social media, urban sociability and the materiality of civic engagement
Speaker: Dr Wendy Willems
Date: 21 February @ 16:30
Location: Seminar Room, 1 St Giles
Registration: Please register on Eventbrite

We are excited to welcome Wendy Willems from London School of Economics and Political Science for her ICT4D talk 'Spatializing publics: mobile social media, urban sociability and the materiality of civic engagement'.


Title: What makes cities successful? A complex systems approach to modelling urban economies
Speaker: Dr Neave O’Clery
Date: 28 February @ 16:30
Location: Seminar Room, 1 St Giles
Registration: Please register on

We are excited to welcome Dr Neave O’Clery from the University of Oxford Mathematical Institute for her ICT4D talk 'What makes cities successful? A complex systems approach to modelling urban economies'.


Title: How do low-income users negotiate new practices of identity in a connected, digital age?
Speaker: Dr Savita Bailur
Date: 9 March @ 16:30
Location: Seminar Room, 1 St Giles
Registration: Please register on Eventbrite

We are excited to welcome Dr Savita Bailur from Caribou Digital for her ICT4D talk 'How do low-income users negotiate new practices of identity in a connected, digital age'.
 


Title: The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers thrive and Work does not pay
Speaker: Guy Standing
Date: 14 March @ 16:30
Location: Seminar Room, 1 St Giles
Registration: Please register on Eventbrite

We are excited to welcome Guy Stadning from the University of London for his ICT4D talk 'The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers thrive and Work does not pay'.

The Impact of Connectivity in Africa: Grand Visions and the Mirage of Inclusive Digital Development

My colleagues Nicolas Friederici, Sanna Ojanperä, and I have recently finished a paper in which we analyse ‘Grand Visions’ of how Internet connectivity affects development in Africa. In the paper, we contrast these visions with the actually available empirical evidence to support those claims. You will be able to read our full conclusions in the paper below:

Friederici, N. Ojanperä, S., and Graham, M. 2017. The Impact of Connectivity in Africa: Grand Visions and the Mirage of Inclusive Digital Development. Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. 79(2) 1-20. 

We show that the evidence base to support the claim that Internet connectivity has a vast positive or “transformative” impact on development in Africa is thin. More worryingly, once we see the techno-determinist and modernist assumptions at the core of many visions, visions of rapid development precipitated though ICTs might not just fail to achieve their goals (even on their own terms), they could actively undermine those very efforts in a world of scarce resources.

Here are some excerpts as a preview of the paper:

Development has always grappled with why some people and places have much more than others. Yet much of that conversation is lost within contemporary discourses of ICTs and development. As states and organisations rush to develop policies and plans to build drones and balloons, lay fibre-optic cables, and find other ways to connect the disconnected, much is said about the power of ICTs to positively transform the world’s most underprivileged people and places.

This is because ‘self-evident’ discourses of connectivity, like modernist visions before them offer a powerful, aspatial and ahistorical teleology (Graham et al., 2015). This allows policymakers to point to new technological fixes instead of focusing on how the political economy of any given context works to allocate power and wealth.

Visions and aspirations of transformation through connectivity are thereby able to drive concrete government projects and development funding. Hardly any dependable aggregate figures of funding and subsidies are available; many development actors are not accountable to tax payers (such as philanthropic organisations) and thus do not disclose their spending. Heeks (2009) uses official development assistance data as a proxy and concludes that ‘hundreds of millions of US dollars per year are invested in [ICT for development] projects; and that tens of billions of US dollars per year are invested in… infrastructure.’ The World Bank, as an example of a large development organisation, spent US$4.2 billion for ICT programming from 2003 to 2010 (Independent Evaluation Group, 2011), and is currently investing about US$1.2 billion in grants and loans for regional connectivity infrastructure programmes in Africa (Navas-Sabater, 2015). Rockefeller’s digital jobs programme, as an example of an initiative without infrastructure investments, provides US$100 million across Africa. Irrespective of how we measure the specifics, it is clear that huge sums have been, and continue to be, invested in the area.

Admittedly, it is impossible to establish a direct, causal connection between the discourses we have outlined and the myriad decisions that go into such ‘digital development’ spending. Still, our analysis highlights the ubiquity and assertiveness of discourses that are optimistic about the impacts and potentials of connectivity. It is clear that the productive power of these discourses provides a fertile ground for the argumentation of actors seeking to set up connectivity infrastructure, run Internet-related development projects, or sell equipment and services connected to the agenda (see (Graham, 2015) for an example of how Kenyan ICT firms strategically deploy visions of changing connectivity). As just one example, in a recent presentation, the World Bank summarized the rationale for investments in a fibre network in Central Asia in unequivocal terms: ‘Improved Internet connectivity = Economic benefits’ (Navas-Sabater, 2015, p. 4). Such a simple rationale can only be credible if the audience is sufficiently credulous, and this credulity is what discourse produces.

Discourses of development have always produced and reproduced the very objects of their ‘concern’ (Escobar, 1995). We can take a lead from Ferguson’s (1994) prompt to ask ‘what do aid programmes do besides fail to help poor people?’ Our worry here is not just that the significant resources invested in connecting Africa’s disconnected will be wasted. It is rather that the Grand Visions of connectivity will themselves lead to an exacerbation of the very things that they purport to solve. For instance, by framing inequality as something that can be effectively tackled with more connectivity, we might take away focus from the structural economic processes bringing about widening inequalities. What is worse than a developmental intervention not working is believing that an important issue has been effectively addressed when it, in reality, clearly hasn’t.

It is possible that contemporary Grand Visions of connectivity are truly reflective of a promising future for ICTs and economic development. But it is equally possible that many of those visions are hugely overblown. The current evidence base is mixed and inconclusive. We therefore need to ensure that we do more to ask the organisations and entities who produce Grand Visions to justify their claims, refusing that it is self-evident that ICTs will automatically bring about development.

(Cross-posted from Mark Graham’s blog.)

Related work:

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

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).

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.