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Updated Final Proposal

November 29, 2010

Hey everyone …

The text that follows is the final version of my paper/proposal. I am planning on using this research for my dissertation or a project that will eventually compliment my dissertation!

So, I hope you enjoy what follows. Have a wonderful break and thanks for a wonderful semester!

Cheers!

 

Social & Digital Structures 2.0: A Look into the Digital Divides in Rural Bihar India

In the very early stages of developing a research topic for this course, I found myself wanting to critique technology projects like “One Laptop Per Child” within India. Basically, I wanted to critique the mission/end-goal of Western Multi-nationals and governments influence within India’s technology sector in hopes to “Bridge the Digital Divide”. Interestingly enough, this research would not be something that my family in India would be too happy about considering one of my uncles (Yashwant Sinha) who currently holds the post of Indian Minister for External Affairs. He is a senior leader for the B.J.P. party (Bharatiya Janata Party – what in the United States would be our Republican/Conservative party – focusing on issues like Hindu/Indian nationalism, free market capitalism, etc.) and was the Finance Minister under Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Anyways, back to the research. The very tough situation within India is the fact that there is a divide, actually massive gap, between the rich and poor … so much so that according to Kenneth Keniston, professor of Human Development at MIT, 60 million Indian children do not even go to school each day. So for them is the question about working with ICTs (Information Communication Technologies) … helping to bridge the digital gap, or is it simply getting a proper education? But, when a person shifts their focus towards the 3%, or fewer, of the Indian population that is or can be connected then are we not just reifying the gap and/or even widening it?

This project will examine the use and implementation of technology, and the issues surrounding the digital divide, in India in terms of religion, caste, gender, and even age. From class I will be focusing on themes generated by four books: Structures of Participation, New Media, The Cell Phone, and finally The Young and The Digital.

In Joe Karaganis’s book, Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, he points out how our physical/social networks play a big role in our use of digital spaces and technologies. He posits a linear progression of the transformation in recording history and information. As an example, Karaganis points to the fact that society’s memory practices have changed through the years; to oral and electronic practices from an oral and written based practices. It is because of Karaganis’s book why I have begun to look at India’s digital divide in a differently light. One cannot completely ignore the influence of religion, caste, and gender hierarchies in a society which has a history of societal development that can be traced back thousands of years.

The authors of New Media: A Critical Introduction, show that in the West issues surrounding identity performance, the influence of technologies on the public/business sectors, and questions of intellectual property are very important. This makes me want to question … what then, as far as technologies and digital spaces are concerned, are the issues important to the rural communities in India? Does this change depending on the distance/influence of larger urban/metro communities like Patna, New Delhi, Mumbai, etc.? And taking into account these issues and focusing on political economy … what then is the focus of the research on? (The authors show that in the West, the focus is on production). A key term to come out of their book is the term Technological Imaginary. A technological imaginary pursues the challenge of riding the globe of social injustices and attempts to forge a single social reality both democratic and coherent.

Horst and Miller’s book, The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication, went beyond just putting cell phones in homes, a “One Cell Phone per House” type project. Rather, their book points to the fact that opening the doors to technology benefits some and creates family/social chaos for others (i.e. the example of Mr. Levy and the end of “call boxes”). Horst and Miller also point out how subtle our relationships with a broader network has become and how complex they once were. They argue how multi-stranded our networks have become and how the influence/introduction of cell phones in Jamaica has expanded this “multi-strandedness” and is almost making these complexities seem second nature. Lastly, they also argue that the introduction of technologies does not inherently mean a dramatic transformation to people’s daily lives – although not completely absent. It was this book, the concept of technological imaginary, and input by Kim Christen, which led me to think of India’s ICTs as and ecology rather than individual objects. I am still in the process of gathering sources which, hopefully, will point to the differences between the two ways of classification and provide a theoretical background which will help critique the positionality of Western/governmental powers.

Craig Watkins’s book, The Young and the Digital, was great for showing how social networking sites and other technologies were being used. Scholars of and implementers of technology seem to overgeneralize these connections by making a reference to “this is Generation-Y”. To critque this, I would also like to see how social networking sites are used in rural India and what a term like “multi-tasking” means to these rural communities.

 

The Project: My Methodologies & Position

I want to begin this section by saying that I have decided that this proposal will play into my dissertation or be a project that my dissertation looks into at the very least. I have decided to focus the project on India … and considering there has been a lot of work done on technology use in urban settings, I want to narrow the project’s focus a bit further by examining proper implementation/uses of ICTs in rural India. For example, one of my final research questions I posed was, “What projects are currently taking place within rural India that includes proper implementation of ICTs?” I want to narrow this focus a bit more by moving the focal point of my research towards the rural areas in the state of Bihar (located in northeast India, just south of the Nepali border) – perhaps even focusing on villages near the capital city of Patna. This way I would have a “base” in Patna (where my family is from of course) where I can center myself, have access to certain amenities (basic human needs, family connections for financial/personal purposes, and the University of Patna’s library for further information/research gathering.

This project, yes, will have a research-based foundation but also needs fieldwork to work out some of the other questions that are present or may arise. I plan for this project to last one semester to a year depending on what form of fieldwork I will be doing. As I have mentioned above, observations and one-on-one interviews will be my main source of gathering information while in India. The observations will allow me time to do my own analysis of project, but the interviews will either confirm or reject these analyses, and in the case of rejection … will hopefully point me to what is genuinely going on.

I will also be including a 5-10 page position paper positioning myself within the project. I will cover my background as an American born South Asian and how my father’s “breaking” of family traditions as led me to a more liberal mindset (in comparison to my family overseas). In addition to this, it is this mindset which has sparked the interest to focus on rural Bihari communities rather than urban “poor, college students” like my family would want me to focus on (I know this through discussions I have had with them).

What is at stake with this research project? Why is it so important? First off, it is important to me because it could potentially impact me (if I decide to live in India), but will definitely impact my family currently living in India. Secondly, if India wants to further develop its economy and maybe avoid some of the issues that Western societies are facing with the implementation of ICTs, than I advise the Indian society to focus on the same questions I pose in my project. The helping just Hindus or Muslims, or urban vs. rural Indians, does absolutely nothing for the betterment of the nation. But at the same time I realize that my project is not the “Be all to end all”. What is at the foundation of even my issues is the realization that assess to basic education would alleviate the majority of problems surrounding technology access.

 

The Research

Questions

Here are the questions that I focused on:

1)    How does the participation divide interact with(in) existing social structures in India?

  • What is socialization in general terms?
  • What is socialization in Indian terms?
  • How does one already socialize? (Notions surrounding hypersocialization)

2)    How have International Organizations influenced the participation divide for better or worse? (IMF, World Bank, Nasscom, etc.)

3)    What is “access”?

  • What does it mean to different communities? (rich/poor, traditional/non-traditional, etc.)
  • Is there an underlying issue to the problem of access? (Kenneth Keniston)

4)    In India, are there more divides present than just the typical participation and access divides?

  • If so, what are they and how do they operate in Indian society?

5)    What, as far as technologies and digital spaces are concerned, issues are important to the rural communities in India? Does this change depending on the distance from/influence of larger urban/metro communities like Patna, New Delhi, Mumbai, etc.?

  • And taking into account these issues and focusing on the political economy of the different divides … then what is the focus of the research on? (In Western societies the focus is on production)

6)    What would a proper installation of technologies/ICTs in a rural Indian setting look like? (Attacking the participation divide”; pg. 32 of The Young and The Digital)

7)    If we think of the social structure as an ecology – which includes multiple facets of daily life – than how might we begin to look at ICTs similiarly?

  • How is this ICT ecology defined, shaped, understood, mobilized and put into practice?

 

Sources & Literature Review

The following is a list of my sources. I have divided them up into 2 sections: 1) Sources that go through the theory or setting up of topics like the digital divide, digital identity creation/culture, the participation divide, identity tourism, social life in cyberspace (also social networking), etc. This section will also include some of the texts from class … and 2) Sources that pertain specifically to India. The sources on India focus on ICTs not these previous theories. If any of you find sources of these theories and their practices/working within Indian culture/society please pass them my way!

The theory sources will lay the foundation for the examinations of the digital divide within India. But, to start the analysis I think I might use one of the “India” sources (Kenneth Keniston) which points out India’s particular situation concerning the divide and its stratification amongst the different groups within India (religious, caste, economic, political, etc.).

Theory –>

Critical Cyberculture Studies; David Silver & Adrienne Massanari, 2006 –> This piece operates in two ways. First, the book lays the foundation of how and what constitutes Cyberculture. Lastly, the book functions as a cautionary piece against the force of disciplinarity. The field of cyberculture studies (and other related fields) must have an agile curriculum – resembling that of the technologies themselves. In doing so, the injustices that arise from the advancement of our social/cyber networks can be better challenged.

Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture; Tarleton Gillespie

The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication; Heather Horst, 2006 –> This book went beyond just putting cell phones in homes. Rather, the book points to the fact that opening the doors to technology benefits some and creates family/social chaos for others. Horst and Miller point out how multi-stranded our networks have become and how the influence/introduction of cell phones in Jamaica has expanded this “multi-strandedness” and is almost making these complexities seem second nature. They argue that the introduction of technologies does not mean a dramatic transformation to people’s daily lives – although not completely absent. It was this book, the concept of technological imaginary, and input by Kim Christen, which led me to think of India’s ICTs as and ecology rather than individual objects.

Structures of Participation in Digital Culture; Joe Karaganis, 2008 ed. –> This book points out how our physical/social networks play huge roles in our use of digital spaces and digital technologies. He posits a linear progression of the transformation in recording history and information. Karaganis points to the fact that society’s memory practices have changed through the years; to oral and electronic practices from an oral and written based practices. It is because of Karaganis’s book why I have begun to look at India’s digital divide in a differently light. One must not completely ignore the influence of religion, caste, and gender hierarchies on ICTs in a society that has a history which can be traced back thousands of years.

The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future; S. Craig Watkins, 2009 –> This book was great for showing how social networking sites and other technologies were being used. Scholars of and implementers of technology seem to overgeneralize these connections by making a reference to “this is Generation-Y”. To critque this, I would also like to see how social networking sites are used in rural India and what a term like “multi-tasking” means to these rural communities.

Coming Out in the Age of the Internet: Identity ‘Demarginalization’ Through Virtual Group Participation; Katelyn Y.A. McKenna and John A. Bargh

Life on The Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet; Sherry Turkle

Beyond Anonymity, or Future Directions for Internet Identity Research; Helen Kennedy

New Media: A Critical Introduction; Martin Lister, 2009 ed. –> This book shows the issues surrounding identity performance, the influence of technologies on the public/business sectors, and questions of intellectual property are very important. I thus beg to question what issues are important to those in the rural communities? A key term to come out of their book is the term Technological Imaginary. A technological imaginary pursues the challenge of riding the globe of social injustices and attempts to forge a single social reality both democratic and coherent.

Relationship Formation on the Internet: What’s the Big Attraction?; Katelyn Y.A. McKenna, Amie S. Green, and Marci E.J. Gleason

Language, Identity, and the Internet; Mark Warschauer

The Internet and Social Life; John A. Bargh and Katelyn Y.A. McKenna

The Augmented Social Netowork: Building Identity and trust into the next generation Internet; Ken Jordan, Jan Hauser, and Steven Foster

Can the digial divide be contained?; Duncan Campbell

 

India (the following are hyperlinks to the articles themselves) –>

Bridging the Digital Divide: Gyandoot – The Model for Community Networks; Rajesh Rajora

Bridging Digital Divide: Efforts in India; Siriginidi Subba Rao

Information Village: Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural India; Shivraj Kanungo

Bridging the Digital Divide Lessons from India: The Four Digital Divides; Kenneth Keniston, 2003 (this is the online version of his book) –> This piece was the starting point for the development of this proposal. In this article, Keniston discusses 4 digital divides that implementers of ICTs in India should take into account: 1) the typical access divide [rich v. poor, educated v. non-educated, etc.], 2) a linguistic/ cultural divide [issues between Hindus and Muslims, one of a few nations world wide to have more than 10 official languages, etc.], 3) the digital divide between the global North v. South, and finally 4) the benefactors of such a gap … the new “Digerati” elite as Keniston says. As much as I love Kenneth’s piece, I also have another problem with it … he like many other researchers do not even address the disparities between male and females within Indian society – thus, just maybe, leading to a “Gender Divide”. This will be the piece that I begin my writing on India with, and it will be the cornerstone for the upcoming research.

Political Economy and Information Capitalism in India: Digital Divide, Development and Equity; Govindan Parayil –> I have not been able to get a hold of this book yet, but the following is a description that I have found on us.Macmillan.com and other sites (Amazon.com, etc.) … “In this theoretically and empirically engaging volume, the contributors demonstrate that despite the dynamism of India’s software industry and the rhetorical flourishes of industry leaders, at present, the benefits of the revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) touch only the hundreds of thousands with the right skills and access. India still needs to do more to bring the benefits of ICTs to the hundreds of millions of its citizen’s still living in acute poverty. The contributors take stock of the political economy implications of informational development in India” (Palgrave Macmillan, May 2006). Once I am able to get a copy of this book, I will find out how it may(not) work into my dissertation.


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. allitravis permalink*
    November 29, 2010 12:55 pm

    You ask how does one ‘socialize’, but maybe add the question of what is socialization before hand, then move on to how it is done? That is, what does socialization mean in Indian culture and then how does one do it?

  2. priyanka30 permalink*
    November 30, 2010 2:53 am

    hey Eric,
    Nicely done proposal – I really liked how you outlined it to make it easy to navigate, unlike what I did! 😉
    Anyway, as for feedback, here goes:
    1. your list of references is strong, and I will send you my sources a little later.
    2. 72% of India’s population is still considered “rural”. Therefore, ICTs are right now HUGE in terms of human development. Check out projects like Drishtee, The Swaminathan Research Foundation, and the case of “wired villages” that have become so popular in India.
    3. I’d also check out Rafiq Dossani’s work about ICT and rural India.
    4. Here’s something you might find helpful: http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/ni/digitalbridges/presentations/12-Jhunjhunwala.pdf
    5. You could also look at ICT and gender in an Indian perspective. Here’s something along similar lines: http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/APCITY/UNPAN029838.pdf

    That’s about it. Hope this was of some help. I am excited for you! 🙂
    Priyanka

  3. kachristen permalink*
    November 30, 2010 7:54 am

    Eric,
    This focus is much improved. Your thinking has gotten clearer and the direction is a fruitful topic that could indeed be a dissertation incorporating the social, cultural and economic aspects of ICT adoption and mobilization in rural India.

    You’ll need to flesh this out more, you have a good start, here are some suggestions:

    1. You state…”But, when a person shifts their focus towards the 3%, or fewer, of the Indian population that is or can be connected then are we not just reifying the gap and/or even widening it?”

    Great–change this into an argument–“I suggest that by focusing on the 3% that may have access to the Internet scholars, activists and policy makers are reifying and widening the participation gap. Instead of maintaining this focus I intend to…

    2. same with your focus on rural…
    “Because the tendency has been to study technology where it is most prevelent in urban settings scholars have missed the everyday practices, uses and mobilizations of technology and the technological imaginary in rural India. In my study I will….

    3. I don’t think you need to focus just on one ICT–cellphone etc…instead look at the ICT ecology and define how it is shaped, understood, mobilized and put into practice …some of this may include actual devices (ie cellphones) and some may be more of a technological imaginary that is mobilized (say in education planning etc)

    4. You’ll need to do some reading on ethnography before you do fieldwork, come and see me and I’ll point you to some reading. Or check with me about an independent study on the topic.

    5. You’ll need to flesh out your annotated bib and this will help you with your framework logistics/structures as well

  4. December 2, 2010 6:59 pm

    Cool topic, Eric. I am especially interested in your positionality paper as your family/cultural background makes the piece more intriguing.

    I liked your research questions.

    I am unfamiliar with all of the digital theories you listed, but as far as social/cultural theories have you looked into the book Empire by Hardt & Negri. For some reason that book jumped out of me in thinking of your proposal. In it they discuss some interesting concepts that might help envelop the other theoretical frameworks that are more specific to digital theories/technology?

    Also thinking of Lasch.

    Not sure if that’s helpful, but hopefully you can get something from my comments!!

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