20 July 2007

Rich ethnographic reports about the uses of ICT in low-income communities

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Internet cafe in Ghana
The UK Department for Development has published a long study, written by a number of researchers from British and Australian Universities, about the social and economic benefits of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in low-income communities in Jamaica, India, South Africa and Ghana.

The Australian anthropology site Culture Matters reports that “the working papers strongly re-enforce the benefits of an ethnographic approach for the wider world,” but this approach “is also increasingly seen as contributing to sound development policies.”

“One of the most convincing is the study on Jamaica by Daniel Miller and Heather Horst, which “juxtaposes conventional ICT policy making in Jamaica with ethnographic findings and uncovers that the assumptions concerning internet use held by the government as well as international NGOs diverge hugely from the realities. […] The whole report is full of examples for ethnography’s ability to check (and often disprove) common-sense beliefs concerning the benefits of new technologies.”

The reports from Ghana by Don Slater and Janet Kwami also “unveiled a huge gap between policy assumptions and actual usage. […] On the one hand there is the widespread belief amongst governments and NGOs that the Internet is a tool of development through information distribution. Yet all Internet users in the Accra slum studied used the internet only for chat with foreigners (as well as some diasporic family members and friends). There was exceptionally low awareness of even the existence of websites.”

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