I181: Technology & Poverty
School of Information, UC Berkeley
Summer 2013
M/W/F: 2-4.30
210 South Hall

Elisa Oreglia
Office Hours: Monday 1-2, 211 South Hall

Neha Kumar
Office Hours: Wednesday 1-2, 211 South Hall

Course Description
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 in both developing and developed countries. We begin the class by taking a close look at the concepts of poverty, development, and technology. We then contrast ‘thinking big’ – infrastructure and industrialization projects – and ‘thinking small’ – the appropriate technologies movement – approaches to development, looking at past and present projects in both areas. We look at the effect of the upsurge in digital technologies on gender and on the digital divide, and through discussions of case studies from different parts of the world, we focus on specific application areas such as agriculture, financial services, health care, education, entrepreneurship, and entertainment, and examine the impact of different technologies in these domains.

Mailing List
The course mailing list is i181@ischool.berkeley.edu.

Readings will be posted to the course schedule. Most readings will be provided online, and some will have restricted access. We will expect you to come  to class having done the ‘required readings’ and ready to discuss them. We have also listed ‘optional readings’ that you may wish to read if you are particularly interested in a topic.

We have assigned you excerpts from the following books for class. While we have not made any of these books mandatory for class, they are good references for the topics we will be studying in this course.

Allen, Tim, and Alan Thomas (Eds.) 2000. Poverty and Development: Into the 21st Century. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press.

Mackenzie, D. and J. Wajcman (Eds.) 1999. The Social Shaping of Technology. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Meier, G. and J. Stiglitz (Eds). 2001. Frontiers of Development Economics: The future in perspective. Oxford University Press.

Schumacher, E. F. 1973. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Harper and Row Publishers.

Smillie, I. 2000. Mastering the Machine Revisited: Poverty, Aid and Technology.Verlag.

Smith, Merrit Roe and Leo Marx (Eds.) 1994. Does Technology Drive History? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Grades will be determined based on a student’s performance on assignments, group activities, reading summaries, and class participation. The class will not be graded on a curve. The following is an approximate breakdown of the weight given to the different components in the course.

  • Class participation + reading summaries: 30%
  • Group teaching: 20%
  • Final project: 50% (divided between individual and group components)

Assignments and summaries will be due at the start of class. We will accept late assignments, but the grades will be reduced by half a letter grade per late day. There will be no allowance for late presentations. 

Academic honesty
Academic integrity will be expected in whatever activity we undertake in class. Plagiarism will be treated as a serious offense and dealt with as per the Berkeley campus code of student conduct.

An important component of academic honesty is to cite your sources while writing or presenting your work, including assignments. UC  Berkeley guidelines have the following to say about the importance of citing your sources:

“Whenever you quote or base your ideas on another person’s work, you must document the source you used. Even when you do not quote directly from another work, if reading that source contributed to the ideas presented in your paper, you must give the authors proper credit.”

These guidelines also contain instructions on how to cite.

We prefer that you do not use laptops during class, particularly when students are presenting to the class.