Lecture 8, 6/14

In this class, we will review the concepts we have learned so far, organizing a Pub Quiz of sorts. We will also do a workshop on the composition and delivery of presentations.

Lecture 7, 6/12

The Digital Divide
What is the “digital divide”, if at all there is such a thing? In this class, we will look at Keniston’s views regarding this divide, and the alternatives he offers for examining this phenomenon. We will then consider the example of the OLPC project, and see how it aims to resolve this ‘digital divide’. Our guest speaker for the day, Jen Schradie, will continue this discussion, drawing upon her own research findings.

Required readings
– Keniston, K. 2004. “Introduction: The Four Digital Divides.” in K. Keniston and R. Kumar (Eds) Experience in India: Bridging the Digital Divide, Sage Publications, p. 11-36.
– Gomez, R. 2013. “When You Do Not Have a Computer: Public-Access Computing in Developing Countries.” Information Technology for Development, 2013
– Schradie, J. 2012. “The Trend of Class, Race, and Ethnicity in Social Media Inequality: Who Still Cannot Afford to Blog?” Information, Communication & Society Vol. 15 No. 4.

Background readings
– Robinson, L. 2009. “A Taste for the Necessary.” Information, Communication & Society Vol. 12 No. 4.
– Yang, Y., et al. 2013. “Roots of Tomorrow’s Digital Divide: Documenting Computer Use and Internet Access in China’s Elementary Schools Today.” China & World Economy Vol. 21 No. 3.
– Warschauer, M. 2004. Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide. The MIT Press.

Lecture 6, 6/10

Thinking Small: A Bottom-Up Approach to Development
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. 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.

Required readings
– Schumacher, E. F. 1973.”Buddhist Economics” and “Social and Economic Problems Calling for the Development of Intermediate Technology” In Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, pp. 50-59, 161-179. Harper and Row Publishers.
– Bilger, B. 2009. “Hearth Surgery. The Quest for a Stove that Can Save the World.” The New Yorker, December 21.
– 2012. “‘Clean cookstoves’ draw support, but they may not improve indoor air quality.” The Washington Post.
– Hans Rosling, The Magic of the Washing Machine.

Background readings
– Rogers, E. 1962, 2003. “Elements of Diffusion.” In Diffusion of Innovations. Free Press.
– The issue of ‘sustainable development’ raised in the UN’s Brundtland Report (Read chapters 1 and 2).
– Cowan, R. S. 1987. “The Consumption Junction: A Proposal for Research Strategies in the Sociology of Technology.” In W. E. Bijker, T. P. Hughes, & T. J. Pinch (Eds.), The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology, pp. 261-280. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
– De Laet, Marianne and Annemarie Mol. (2000). “The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology,” Social Studies of Science 30(2): 225–63
– Bornstein, D. 2007. “The Light in my Head Went On.” in How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. Oxford University Press. (p. 21-40)
– Srinivasan, J. 2012. “Looking beyond Information Provision: The importance of being a Kiosk Operator in the Sustainable Access In Rural India (SARI) Project, Tamilnadu.” Special Issue, Information Technologies & International Development Vol 8.

Lecture 4, 6/5

Technology: A Brief History and Key Concepts
In today’s lecture, we will ask what constitutes technology. While development institutions frequently refer to technology and ICTs as an entity with generalized impact, we will spend our time in the course breaking down the concept. We will consider technology broadly as artifacts, systems, and as techniques. We will take a brief look at popular frameworks of understanding technologies and also discuss at greater length the idea of technological determinism.

Required readings
– Marx, L. 1997. “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept” Social Research, Vol. 64, No. 3: 965-988.
– Winner, L. 1999. “Do Artifacts have Politics?” In D. Mackenzie and J. Wajcman (Eds.) The Social Shaping of Technology, pp. 28-40. Buckingham: Open University Press.
– Bijker, W. E. 2007. “Dikes and Dams, Thick with Politics.” Isis No. 98.
– Skim: Heilbroner, R. L. 1994. “Do Machines Make History?” In Merrit Roe Smith & Leo Marx (Eds) Does Technology Drive History?, pp. 53-65. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Background readings
– Bijker, W. 1997. “King of the Road: The Social Construction of the Safety Bicycle” in Bicycles, Bakelites and Bulbs. MA: MIT Press.
– World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), Geneva Declaration of Principles.

Lecture 1, 5/29

In this introductory class, we will lay out some of the important themes and concepts of this course. We will focus on discussions about the role of technology in poverty alleviation, examining the ways in which these discussions have changed and how they have remained the same in the past five decades or so. In particular, we will discuss two key threads that come into play in discussions of technology and poverty: the spectrum between technological and social determinism (does technology drive society or does society drive technology); and that between social structure and agency (are people’s actions determined by existing social structures or do their actions determine social structures). We will discuss why these threads are useful to follow and how they will help us frame our discussions of various technologies and their use by the poor. We will also discuss the course outline, schedule, readings, assignments, and logistics.

Required readings:

Welcome to I181: Technology & Poverty

Time: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 2-4.30
Place: 210 South Hall
Instructors: Neha Kumar & Elisa Oreglia

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.