Showing posts with label poverty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poverty. Show all posts

Friday, November 30, 2018

Talk at Humboldt Berlin on Tech, Law and Access to Justice

On 28th and 29th of November 2018, I participated and spoke at a workshop titled  “The Future of Law: Technology, Innovation and Access to Justice” at the Humboldt University of Berlin.  The workshop was organised by the Chair for  Public Law and Comparative Law, Humboldt University of Berlin and the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung for Freedom. My talk was titled, "Above the law and below poverty: Databased obfuscations, activism and publicity from the global South." My talk argues that contrary to seeking to be protected through anonymity as the bulk of the current research alludes to, some of those at the margins may choose to put themselves at high risk by being visible and heard. The GDPR, rooted in the Western ideology of individual choice and rights, may have created a privacy universalism, begging the question of whether privacy is a privilege and a luxury. This talk draws from a decade of fieldwork and activism among vulnerable communities beyond the West to grapple with the question of whether privacy and activism are after all compatible.

Access to justice is understood as the ability for people to address their everyday legal problems, either through recourse to courts or other forums. It is estimated that globally, around 4 billion people live outside the reach of the law, and do not have the security, opportunity or protection to redress their grievances and injustices. Challenges of access to justice can manifest in multiple ways, these can include where courts and legal institutions are out of reach of litigants for reasons of costs, distance or even a lack of knowledge of rights and entitlements. It can also be caused because many judicial institutions are under-funded and as a result, there is poor infrastructure, inadequate staff and limited resources to meet the needs and demands of litigants who require such services. In many instances the text of law itself is riddled with complexities and that makes it difficult for it to be understood and used effectively. Access to justice  is therefore an expansive concept that has symbolic, financial, informational and structural implications for fights against poverty, inequality, violence and a lack of development. This significance has been recognized in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that see access to justice as a key driver for building peaceful and inclusive societies.

A key focus of this conference is to understand how technology, seen as a disruptor in several industries and economies, can leverage innovation to introduce solutions to some of the most intractable justice sector problems. The German government, particularly through its Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, has also identified the vast potential of digitalization and specifically targets the promotion of human rights and political participation in its recently published “Digital Agenda”. The conference aims to bring together leading lawyers, judges, academics, activists, technologists and researchers to discuss ways in which advances in technology, can bring greater access, efficiency and effectiveness to justice sector reform.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

New article out on big data and the global south

Last year, I initiated the Privacy and the global South Project with fieldwork on digital privacy in the favelas of Brazil, townships of South Africa and the slums of India. Its been an exciting year and while at it, big data is one of those topics that dominate this discussion. So, wrote a thought piece on this for Discover Society which just came out. Check it out if you are interested in how conversations on surveillance, privacy, big data and trust transfer to this much neglected setting and populace. 
Big data and the global south project

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Excited to be an ITS Global Fellow in Rio this July!

I have been working for over a decade on the intersection of new communication technologies, social activism, the public sphere and policy. While I have much fieldwork experience in India in this area, I would like to gain a sustained comparative perspective with another emerging market to extend critical understandings across a wider cultural context.

Early last year, I initiated a small comparative project on perspectives on privacy among youth from the slums in Hyderabad,India with youth in favelas in Belo Horizonte and Rio, Brazil. Given that much scholarship on digital privacy pertains to concerns in the West, I saw this as an opportunity to delve into an underrepresented context for a more cross-cultural and transnational dialogue on privacy. Besides, our understandings on ‘digital privacy’ need to go beyond the online realm, and explore the diverse social norms and spheres these private behaviors inhabit.

While fieldwork continues in these two contexts through research assistants and guided by excellent local mentors (Nimmi Rangaswamy in India and Laura Scheiber in Brazil), I recognized the need to immerse myself further into the working dynamics within the Brazilian and ICT policy context so as to serve as an effective project leader. As luck would have it, The Institute of Technology and Society put out their annual call for Fellows for 2015 offering,

" intensive 4-week program for our fellows, which includes visits to the biggest technology companies operating in Brazil, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee ( and visits to São Paulo and Brasília, including representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture and Congressmen who are advocating for policies related to internet and technology."

Now that would be perfect for me to gain an overview of the Brazilian context regarding internet usage, privacy and ICT policy!

Dot Com MantraFortunately, I was selected as one of the six fellows for this year to go there! This serves as an ideal and timely opportunity to create new and long term collaborations and future publications. For years now I have been approaching this area from simultaneously a policy and grassroots practice angle. For instance, my first book in 2010, ‘Dot Com Mantra: Social computingin the Central Himalayas,’ juxtaposed social practices with new technologies in rural Himalayas with technology policy in India regarding e-health, e-agriculture and e-learning initiatives. Since then, I have written extensively on democratic aspirations and collective participation through social media across cultures, manifesting in constructs such as the digital commons or what I term as the ‘leisure commons’ and the ‘cultural commons’ (e.g. see my 2014 book on the ‘Leisure Commons: A spatial history of web 2.0’).

However, what continues to be amiss is more critical and empirical work on how effective collective governance is pioneered, managed and sustained via digital platforms across cultures and contexts, with particular attention to emerging economies in the global south. Brazil is an excellent context to explore such an undertaking given its high connectivity and usage of social media, controversies on apps like Secret and wide socio-economic and cultural diversity.

Very much looking forward to meeting the ITS Team, my co-fellows and experiencing Brazil for the first time!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

New Publication out on Digital Leisure and Slums of Urban India

Nimmi Rangaswamy from Xerox Research Labs in India and I have been working for some years now on this theme and topic of digital leisure in the global South. We have been arguing for a shift in perspective on internet behavior of emerging market consumers, particularly those who are marginalized socio-economically. Instead of looking at their behavior through a mainly utilitarian lens, we argue that even (or arguably especially) the poor engage with new technologies for more social, playful and entertainment ends. 

Here is our paper published by the International Journal of Cultural Studies that substantiates this argument with fieldwork data in urban slums of India, validating our call for a new approach in examining digital practices among these 'newbie' consumers of the global south. 

The abstract for this paper is as follows: 
The wild and the everyday point at once to twinned aspects of life and, in this article, to a technological imaginary drawing upon the use of the mobile internet in urban slums of India. The article responds to the rather untethered way, from the point of view of state regulation, in which the telecom market in India has devolved to include poor populations, stoking a repertoire of unconventional daily use of the internet by youth living in slums. This article serves to locate the ‘wild and everyday’ as a specific sociocultural space in relation to use of mobile Facebook among young populations invisible to mainstream research on internet and culture. While development, as conventionally understood, is not focused on purposive outcomes of digital leisure practice (romance, play, entertainment), we argue that online engagements such as these are powerful precursors to ecologies of learning, reconstituting our understandings of global and mobile internet practice.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Another review on my book "Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas"

The Australian Journal of Anthropology (ISI/SSCI Indexed journal) Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas P. Arora. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010. xv + 172 pp. Illustrmap, bibliog., index. ISBN 978-1409401070. £50.00 (Hc.) Arora’s book offers an ethnographic answer to a common question in development studies: can new technologies transform other cultures effectively and for the better? Not surprisingly for an ethnographer, her answer is a critique of the technological determinism inherent in this question. She focuses on the introduction of computers in Almora, a town in rural northern India where a long-standing web of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) has steadily tried to influence people’s behaviour. Computers are but one of the technologies that NGOs hope will transform these farmers’ and villagers’ lives. A pastiche of types of organisations are introducing computers in the central Himalayas—some strikingly hands-off educational NGOs, some government-sponsored projects for farmers and some for-profit cybercafes. Each merit a chapter in this ethnography as Arora turns to different sites throughout this village where computers have been introduced by NGOs or entrepreneurs. One might expect that farmers would find computers, and in particular the Internet, very useful tools. After all, the internet can allow them to see how people are pricing the items the farmers are growing over a much wider geographic area than word of mouth reveals. The Indian government decided to provide computers in the name of village empowerment and introduced one-stop shops to make available a wide range of agricultural information to local farmers. For a variety of reasons, these government computer kiosks proved too cumbersome to use for farmers. Without mediators between the farmers and these far-flung markets, the farmers cannot turn this information into action. The kiosks were placed in inconvenient locations, forcing farmers to travel to even more places to complete all their errands. They could print out government forms, but still had to wait in line to hand in the forms. And the computers often broke down, with only the private cybercafe owners, that is, the kiosks’ rivals, equipped to fix them. For all of these reasons, the government computers never became widely used. In addition, Arora deftly illustrates a tenet familiar to science studies scholars: it is not the objects but the networks they condense that shape efficacy and whether the object will be adopted or not. Computers presuppose infrastructures and networks, and when these do not exist, the computers will not be useful in anticipated ways. For similar reasons, an educational aid project failed in Almora as well. An NGO had convinced the Indian government and World Information Technology and Services Alliances to support a Hole-in-the-Wall project—computers would be placed in public walls available for any child to play on them. The idea behind this is that without teachers or schools, the children would be able to learn a large number of computer skills through experimentation. If instruction is discipline, as Foucaultian scholars of education would have it, no instruction is putatively freedom. While this project appears to have been successful in other locations around India, it was a resounding failure in central Himalayan towns. Arora argues that the failure is because of a complex absence of infrastructure. ‘In other words, the act of learning without conventional school constraints is contingent on the support of institutional, social and other factors, making it less ‘‘free’’ in that sense’ (p. 103). The public computers required supervision, not to assist curious children, but to prevent vandalism and to make any necessary repairs. In other Indian communities that could afford to provide such support, the computers were sought out by children over time. When Arora turns her attention to the entrepreneurial computer centres throughout the town, she finds relatively thriving businesses, in part because the owners are eager to provide the repairs and support lacking for the other projects. But what precisely are the services these cybercafe´s provide? After volunteering for a month at one of these centres, Arora determines that these computer centres are often extensions of the nearby schools for the students who enter. Yet in what sense are these centres extensions? The students learn how to produce documents that are collages produced by cut and paste. School projects are fulfilled through practices that in other contexts would be seen as plagiarism. Arora wants to put this label aside and focuses instead the skills one must develop to create these collages. She discusses how the upper-caste school girls convince the computer centre employees to manipulate keyboards on their behalf (perhaps so they can avoid touching caste-contaminated keyboards). Creating these documents require skills and coordination, a considerable degree of social coordination. Yet by sticking resolutely to only what takes place within these computer centres, she ignores the other ways in which this social coordination takes place. How are these documents received within the school grounds? Do teachers approve of these pastiches? Are some pastiches considered better than others? If Arora had not been writing so resolutely for a development studies audience, she also might have addressed questions about plagiarism that anthropologists invariably explore these days, that is, what ideas about authorship circulate among these school girls, within the school and within the town itself to accommodate this type of contextualisation? Dot Com Mantra can be used effectively in upper-level development studies courses and technology studies courses to explore how technologies such as computers travel. The sentences are a bit too dense and unwieldy for lower division students, at least in my university. Another caution: the price of the book is a bit steep, which course instructors should take into consideration. Ilana Gershon, Department of Communication and Culture,Indiana University