Welcome to I181: Technology & Poverty

Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays 10-12.30
Place: 210 South Hall
Instructors: Janaki Srinivasan & Neha Kumar

In this course, we encourage students to examine the interplay between technological systems, economic activities, social structures and practices in the lives of ‘the poor.’ Our goal is to challenge the ways in which students think about how ‘technology’ is defined and what this term covers. Similarly, we will discuss how the term ‘poverty’ is understood and measured. Students will come to understand poverty ground-up as ‘the poor’ experience and describe it, not only in terms of high-level indicators. Through the course, we will focus on the roles played by individuals and societies as active agents of technology adoption and use, in the context of their constrained socio-economic conditions.

We will look at several phases of the application of technology towards poverty alleviation. Starting with the green revolution, to the push towards industrialization, the ‘appropriate technologies’ movement, and the more recent upsurge in entrepreneurship and digital technologies, we will discuss various case studies from different parts of the world. We will also focus on specific application areas such as health care, education, and entertainment, and examine the impact of different technologies in these domains.

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Final Lecture, 6/28

Class, it has been a pleasure to get to know you in these six weeks. This lecture will include a review of the major topics we discussed in the course and leave you with a few key takeaways relating to Technology & Poverty.

All the best with your pursuits, in the many different corners of the world you will be heading out to. We hope our paths will cross again :).

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Lecture 11, 6/26

Enter mobile phones. What do users do with them? Talk on the phone? Not just. In this class, we will talk about some of the motivations that underlie feature (and smart) phone adoption and how these phones are being used to consume and disseminate digital media. Students will also come prepared to present their very own community radio!

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Panel Discussion, 6/21

The topic of this discussion will be “Mobile Phones and their Affordances” and our panelists will talk about their experiences with mobile technologies, why they chose to look at the mobile phone for their work, and what challenges they faced in the process. Here is a list of the panelists:

Joshua Blumenstock
Melissa Densmore (Melissa recommends you read this paper to better understand her research)
Paul Goodman
Prayag Narula
Thejo Kote

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Lecture 9, 6/19

Great job with the presentations last Thursday! In this class, we will discuss community radio initiatives and projects that have been focused on citizen journalism. We will also discuss themes of democratization and surveillance as they relate to these projects.

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Lecture 7, 06/12

In this lecture, we will discuss user appropriation of technology. The focus will be on rural China, where Elisa Oreglia – our guest speaker for the day – does her research. Below is a description of her talk.

Online even in the fields: use of ICT in rural China
A reliable infrastructure, decreasing prices and plentiful connections to urban areas are making mobile phones and computers a common sight in some parts of rural China. In this talk, I will discuss the ‘appropriation’ of Information and Communication Technologies by Chinese rural residents, discussing how they acquire technology, how they learn how to use it, and what they do with it.

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Lecture 6, 6/7

In this lecture, we will talk about digital technologies and the production of social inequality in their design and use. Our guest speaker, Christo Sims, will discuss these themes in the context of his research in a new public school in New York City that promotes “game-like learning” and being a “maker” of media and technology. Later in lecture, we will discuss the example of public access internet kiosks in parts of rural India. We will focus on how class, caste and gender shape  access to these kiosks as well as technology use within them.

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Lecture 5, 6/5

Both ‘Digital Divide’ and ‘Information Society’ have been central concepts in arguments for providing access to digital technologies to poor and marginalized societies. These concepts rework some of the institutional themes of development and growth that we covered before. In this lecture, we will discuss advantages and disadvantages of framing problems of poverty and social exclusion in terms of these concepts.

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Lecture 4, 5/31

From the “top-down” approaches of the cases discussed so far, in this class we will shift to taking a “bottom-up” approach to understanding both technology and poverty. On the one hand, the lecture tackles some of the shortcomings of statistical and metrics-based approaches to measuring and understanding poverty. We will explore how poverty is diversely experienced and how cross-national comparisons often conceal other dimensions of what it means to be poor. On the other, we will discuss the “appropriate technologies” movement in the wake of some of the consequences of large-scale, capital-intensive projects. This movement promoted a philosophy of accommodating indigenous cultures and producing benefits for the rural poor through direct access to ‘appropriate’ technologies (which we will discuss in the activity session). We will also arrive at a set of questions that we will subsequently use to understand the deployment and use of technology by the poor.

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Lecture 3, 5/29

This lecture will discuss the post-independence push towards industrialization in many developing countries. This emphasis followed from economic growth models that saw capital investment as the key to realizing economic growth with the presumption that improved social conditions would follow. Our discussions and activities of these “top-down” approaches will consider the case of the Akosombo dam project in Ghana and the Green Revolution in India. We will discuss the importance of institutional and political embeddedness of technology in its eventual working. We will conclude the class with various critiques of this approach that will point to the politics involved in framing a development problem and setting up a technology solution for it.

The in-class activity will involve groups of students debating for/against the topic of whether the Green Revolution led to development.

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