My comments on the recent media coverage on CNN of ‘sakawa’ (Internet scamming) in Ghana at the excellent blog – Africa is a Country.
Also, while we’re at it, I thought Timothy Burke’s comments on his blog on how the development industry trades in Messianic narratives (with the recent controversy over Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea as the case in point) resonated with this theme of problems in Western ‘depicting’ of the "Third World."
My article titled “User Agency in the Middle Range: Rumors and the Reinvention of the Internet in Accra, Ghana” is in this months Science, Technology & Human Values, 36(2): 139-159.
Abstract: This article is an analysis of rumors about Internet scamming told by Internet cafe users in the West African capital city of Accra, Ghana. Rumors provided accounts of how the Internet can be effectively operated by young Ghanaians to realize “big gains” through foreign connections. Yet these accounts were contradicted by the less promising direct experiences users had at the computer interface. Rumors amplified evidence of wildly successful as well as especially harmful encounters with the Internet. Rather than simply transferring information, through the telling of rumors, Internet users reclaimed a social stability that was disrupted by the presence of the Internet. These stories cast young Ghanaian Internet users as both good and effective in relation to the Internet. The study of accounts as they relate to the activities accounted for is an established area of interest in social theory. By considering how rumors function as accounts and how such interpretations of the technology are propagated among users, this analysis contributes to a broader understanding of user agency.
Received a 3-year NSF Grant from the Science, Technology, and Society program. The title of the project is “How Marginalized Populations Self-Organize with Digital Tools: ethnographic case studies in Africa and China.” For more information see the announcement.
Gave a talk on “Use as Redesign” as part of the Rebele First Amendment Colloquium at Stanford University, department of Communication.
Spoke about phone gifting and phone sharing in rural Uganda as part of the Technology and Social Behavior speaker series at Northwestern.
At the computing at the margins workshop this week at Georgia Tech.
This months issue of the journal Information Technology and International Development contains an article I coauthored with Kentaro Toyama of Microsoft Research India. It is titled, ‘What Constitutes Good ICTD Research?.’ Find it here.
My article titled “Evaluating Shared Access: social equality and the circulation of mobile phones in rural Uganda” is now officially forthcoming in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.
Abstract: This article examines forms of shared access to technology where some privileges of ownership are retained. Sharing is defined as informal, non-remunerative resource distributing activities where multiple individuals have a relationship to a single device as purchaser, owner, possessor, operator and/or user. In the specific case of mobile phones in rural Uganda, dynamics of social policing and social obligation were mediated and concretized by these devices. Patterns of sharing mobile phones in rural Uganda led to preferential access for needy groups (such as those in ill health) while systematically and disproportionately excluding others (women in particular). The framework for sharing proposed in this article will be useful for structuring comparisons of technology adoption and access across cultural contexts.
My article titled “The Field Site as a Network: a strategy for locating ethnographic research” is being translated into Vietnamese by the Journal Donation Project which is based at The New School in NYC. This is the first time I’ve heard about this group and I find their mission to be very worthwhile. They aim to “assist in rebuilding major research and teaching libraries in countries that have fallen victim to political or economic deprivation.” For more on this project go to: http://www.newschool.edu/centers/jdp/