RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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182 Digital and Society: Emerging ICT tapestries of exploitation and empowerment
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Matt Reed (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
Megan Palmer-Abbs (University of Aberdeen, UK)
Chair(s) Matt Reed (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Glamorgan Building - Seminar Room -1.80
Session abstract Digital Technologies are changing the world we live in at rates never seen before. Societal boundaries are eroding and new ones’ materialising as access to, and application of, these transformative technologies weave their tapestry across continents and the communities within them.

Early promoters of these changes pointed to utopian shifts but increasingly the experience of these near ubiquitous technologies is that they map onto existing socio-spatial cleavages, exacerbating some and hybridising with others. Disentangling this increasingly intricate web of exploitation, empowerment and exposition is becoming a core task for social scientists both lay and professional.

In this session, we are particularly seeking empirical evidence of this materialising world, the digital technologies themselves, and how society is grappling with the exponential evolution of this area. Interests range from enabling technologies such as fixed fibre telecommunications or mobile access technologies and associated Information Communication Technologies through to GPS, the internet of things, social media or emerging platforms. What is pivotal is the concept of change, how this is illustrated by the empirical evidence, and what this change means in terms of society, positively or negatively.

Presentations could encapsulate:

• How has the global push to invest in major communication infrastructure altered society?
• Have these global pursuits altered paradigms of digital exploitation; in the Global South and North; between the rural and urban; across existing societal boundaries
• Whether ICTs are being exploited to the levels proclaimed by policy ambitions
• The impact of digital exploitation on society: from big data, Internet of Things, social media, or emerging digital platforms and societal change
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
The Digital Lottery: The Impact of NGB on Rural Small and Micro Businesses in the North East of Scotland
Megan Palmer-Abbs (University of Aberdeen, UK)
There is a consensus in the literature that digital connectivity is deemed critical to economic and social development globally (UN, 2015; OECD, 2010). By 2017, commentary embedded digital connectivity as an essential public utility seeing ‘modern life is increasingly impossible without it’ (DCMS, 2017).

Digital connectivity can boost business efficiency by 5-10%, enables rapid growth in businesses utilising ICTs (OECD, 2016; 2012) and promotes productivity through broadband enabled solutions (Booz and Company, 2012) and the exploitation of new products and services (UN ITU, 2016). Increasingly ‘Value chains are being reshaped, business models are becoming digitalized, distance is being overcome…’ (UN ITU, 2016, p. 10).

However, despite public intervention and investment in NGB infrastructure, many rural businesses remain, digitally disempowered by lack of access to a fit for purpose broadband. With an inability to progress, or maintain, their businesses in the manner they would chose, this is a cause for further dysphoria.

This session presents empirical evidence, based on a three-year project, which tracked the publicly funded BDUK programme (the NGB upgrade plan) in the North East of Scotland, and the impact thereof on rural small and micro businesses. It offers a fresh look at rural broadband at this interim of NGB improvements, the ramifications of rapidly changing ICTs, and the impact of this on rural business ICT exploitation and business survival.
Change at the nation-state level, ICTs and development: exploring a case study of gender and digital development in Myanmar
Sammia Poveda (University of Sheffield, UK)
Changes at the nation-state level impact individuals in complex and multi-layered ways. In Myanmar, change has been a constant companion, particularly since becoming a democratic nation in 2016, undergoing social, economic and political transformations. Thanks to the opening of the markets in 2010, ICTs penetration is increasing in an unprecedented speed, yet, in an uneven manner, creating a new layer of inequalities, the digital divide. As projects using ICTs for development are also on the rise, this paper presents empirical research conducted with a project that used human-centred design to develop a mobile application to empower rural women in Myanmar. Drawing on the Capabilities Approach, Critical Pedagogy and Critical Psychosocial Wellbeing to define development, this paper discusses the positive and negative impact that the mobile application has on how women navigate changes at the nation-state level. On the one hand women improved their social capital, access to information and emotional wellbeing, on the other hand, new needs were created, in terms of digital skills, access to ICTs and connectivity, to an already vulnerable group. This is then linked to how this impacted women’s psychosocial wellbeing. Finally, this paper reflects on the challenges and opportunities digital development projects in Myanmar phase.
Impact of community-based digital platforms with women empowerment pathways for nutrition and agriculture
Sneha Krishnan (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK)
Recent literature on development have highlighted successes of mobile technologies, and digital cash transfers. Singh et al. (2016) have studied decision-making in anticipation or response of climatic and non-climatic risks yet attention on alternate uses of digital technologies in modelling social behaviour change to improve agriculture and nutritional outcomes is scant. Focusing on this gap, in this presentation I reflect on the potential uptake of messages on linking agriculture-nutrition and how they can lead towards empowering women in making decisions about what to grow, what to consume and jointly make decisions at the household level. The approach used here stems from a reflexive approach to the work currently being undertaken under a cluster randomised, controlled trial in Odisha, where organisations are using digital platforms to strengthen delivery and uptake of services in agriculture-nutrition by developing low-cost participatory videos with women’s groups and through participatory learning and action (PLA) meetings (Kadiyala et al, 2018).

Although the trial is ongoing, this presentation will describe the project and context using preliminary findings from baseline survey and process evaluation investigating themes of women’s empowerment (joint decision-making and reduced labour for pregnant and lactating mothers). The findings will inform health and nutritional outcomes in rural areas with the help of three pathways. Primarily, the interest is on women’s empowerment in the form of increased role and decision-making in agricultural activities, intra-household food allocation and reduced workload for pregnant women and lactating mothers.

From this presentation, it will be useful to draw inferences on scalability and feasibility of digital technologies and how they can empower women. It be useful to design further interventions that are low-cost, participatory and multi-sectoral addressing contextual and institutional barriers in increasing access and better agricultural and nutritional outcomes.
Data sovereignty and digital tools for social justice globally: Between “dashboard-controlled aid” and participatory digital action research
Dorothea Kleine (University of Sheffield, UK)
Digital technologies have by now been integrated into most domains of humanitarian aid and socio-economic development practice. The spread of mobile phones has allowed many more people to come online, while digital divides in usage persist. Meanwhile, information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) interventions targeting income-poor or marginalised people have frequently resembled top-down impositions of particular devices, technologies and associated socio-technical systems. Further, the accountability agenda in aid demands data, and digitisation feeds planner fantasies of real-time data and “dashboard-controlled aid”, regardless of recipients’ rights to data sovereignty and their personal digital choices.

Meanwhile, the capability approach (Sen 1999) offers an understanding of human development which states that people themselves ought to be empowered to choose the lives they have reason to value. The paper reflects on two action research projects, in South Africa and in Brazil, which translated these values into participatory evaluation and project design in ICT4D. It argues that participatory methods, including digital-related methods, do allow for greater voice of local people and more marginalised groups. However, it also highlights the limitations of emancipatory action research within the deeply exploitative structures of global wealth divides, entrenched racism, gender inequality and the frequently diminished digital literacy and data sovereignty of the less powerful.