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Technology as an Agent of Economic and Social Change in Africa? Connecting Historical and Contemporary Debates (call for participation)



Call for participation

CAS@50 : Cutting Edges and Retrospectives, 
Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh
6th June 2012 09:00 – 8th June 2012

This panel aims to address some of the ahistoricity of the Information and Communication Technologies for Development field (ICT4D). It does so by focusing on experienced, enacted, and imagined changes in African economic relationships and positionalities due to technologies of connectivity in a contemporary and historical perspective.

ICT4D is a term used to denote a collection of activities that have framed electronic technologies as being useful for socio-economic development. Such technologies (and technologically mediated practices) may incorporate computers, mobile phones and the Internet, and may be used for a variety of developmental ends including health, education and economic activities. Much of the ICT4D literature tends to depict these technologies as ‘revolutionary’ and frames the changes that they engender as unique to our current age. This outlook neglects the longer history of the notion that economies in Africa can be ‘revolutionised’ through technologies – ideas which have been seminal both to the ‘civilising missions’ of the European colonial empires and in the development programmes of colonial and post-colonial states.

This dialogue between historical and contemporary perspectives has a number of approaches and theories to draw upon, including among others Kapil Raj’s ideas about ‘Relocating Modern Science’, Helen Tilley’s notion of ‘Africa as a Living Laboratory’, David Edgerton’s use orientated approach to technological development and Timothy Mitchell’s contributions to post-colonial theory. What these approaches have in common is that they forcefully challenge any simplistic notion of technological diffusion and economic development. As Timothy Mitchell writes, “the practices that form the economy operate, in part, to establish equivalences, contain circulations, identify social actors or agents, make quantities and performances measurable, and designate relations of control and command”. This panel will use these theories as building blocks on which to understand how technological change reshapes our understandings about how the economy operates, the way in which the economy is measured and the way in which economic space is territorialised, both socially and spatially. It will therefore look critically at how contemporary ICT diffusion compare with earlier technological and economic ‘revolutions’.

Themes may include:

  • past and current aspects of control over and use of new technologies of connectivity
  • the relations between newly introduced technologies and existing technologies and material culture
  • shifting perceptions of the benefits and beneficiaries of new technologies  
  • patterns of communication and imagined social, economic and political identities within, between and beyond African border
  • changing ideas and conceptualisations of technology as a driver of economic change and development
  • comparative studies of different forms of technologies in relation to economic development and economic theory
  • the role of technologies in the territorialization and de-territorialization of economic space
  • shifting roles of state and non-state agents in contemporary ICT4D and its historical predecessors
  • the diffusion of technology as a justification of wider political or social projects
In order to best provoke discussion, we would like participants to prepare short papers (4-5000 words) that will be circulated ahead of time and to prepare short presentations (5-10 minutes) so as to maximize discussion and debate during the roundtable. We ultimately hope for participants to expand their papers into contributions for an edited volume.

Panel Organizers:
Casper Andersen, Department of Culture and Society/Aarhus University, Laura Mann and Mark Graham, Oxford Internet Institute/University of Oxford

If you are interested in taking part, please send abstracts to Laura Mann (lauramann82@gmail.com) by February 31st, 2012.