تاریخچه زندگی در فضای مجازی: نوشتن زندگی به عنوان یک ابزار توسعه برای زنان روستایی
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Geoforum, Volume 36, Issue 1, January 2005, Pages 59–75
Increasingly, information and communication technology (ICT) is being used as a development tool. For example, a recent innovative experiment by the FIDAMERICA development cybernetwork (sponsored by IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development) in Latin America used an electronic network to collect, post and discuss rural women's life histories, intending to support gender mainstreaming in IFAD projects. However, cybernetworking processes can also reflect contradictory agendas and power relations that ultimately make them a site of contestation. In the FIDAMERICA case, the authors did not participate in the electronic conference, nor were there any subsequent efforts to connect them or to develop this process further. In this paper, I argue that the analysis of increasingly complex cybernetworked development efforts must incorporate a correspondingly sophisticated technique that can uncover the nuanced relations of transnational cyber communication; and I propose that an actor-network approach should be investigated as an analytical framework in these cases. I then apply this approach to the case study, using field research conducted with the participants of the FIDAMERICA electronic life history project in Central America. I conclude that an actor-network approach is a fruitful means by which these processes can be both understood and improved.
In 1995, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) established FIDAMERICA, a cybernetwork of IFAD's approximately 30 development projects located throughout Latin America. Heretofore, the IFAD projects had been operating relatively independently within a hierarchical structure emanating from its central headquarters in Rome; and FIDAMERICA was part IFAD's overall operational restructuring in response to the perceived benefits of organizational integration.1 As one of many cybernetworked initiatives since then, FIDAMERICA conducted a life history2 gathering project in 1997 to identify local women leaders associated with the IFAD projects. Set up as a “Concurso” or contest, and conducted within the structure of an international electronic conference, the project literature states that the life history project was intended to stimulate the telling of life histories by women leaders, so that other peasant and indigenous women in other countries could learn lessons from their experiences. Across this dialogue, we wish to strengthen communication and exchange between peasant organizations across Latin America. Also, we hope that this project will permit rural development organizations at all levels to learn from these autobiographies, and that they will go on in their work to support the development of new women leaders.3 Submissions to the Concurso were encouraged by monetary prizes for the winners, 4 and the result was that FIDAMERICA received life histories from over 100 local women leaders, most of who were beneficiaries of local IFAD projects. Subsequently, the life histories were published on the FIDAMERICA website, winners were judged during an electronic conference and a small book of winners' stories was published. But when I asked the director of FIDAMERICA, “how did this process work, and what were the outcomes and impacts of the life histories and the conference for the authors?” the response was that beyond the publication of the booklet, “who knows.” 5 The agenda of the Concurso, as stated in the project literature, included information sharing and communication among Latin American peasants, gender sensitization for development organizations, and ultimately leadership development and empowerment for rural women. This initiative is broad and noble, and represents a potential first step towards ICT related development participation by those on the frontiers of cyberspace. However, as I will show in this paper, a deeper investigation of the details of this process reveals a somewhat more complex story. Alternately, although the cybernetic life histories were simultaneously a vehicle for the sensitization of IFAD staff to the realities of their beneficiaries' lives, a model for the formation of an alternative collective subject, and a moderate vector of empowerment for their authors, the Concurso was also a truncated cybernetworking initiative for Latin American campesinas. Although the literature stated that it intended to strengthen communication and exchange, most of the women whose life histories appeared never knew about their placement online, the e-conference, nor did most of them receive any feedback beyond a certificate of participation. No form of broader communication among them has materialized. In the world of ICT for development (currently shorthanded as ICT4D) the seductive glossy screen of development websites and their contents can conceal a deep well of complicated, contradictory, and downright messy relations among the actors represented there. On the one hand, ICT4D holds enormous development potential, and at the same time, it can complicate progressive development agendas, obscure the role of the technology in this endeavor, or even exaggerate the contribution of ICT to development. The multiple outcomes of the Concurso for the campesina authors must be seen within the evolving patterns of interface between ICT and development in the context of global change. Increasingly, the ICT enabled processes of neo-liberal globalization have been challenged by civil society actors using these same technologies to exert agency over global processes at multiple scales. 6 In principle, these groups use ICTs to seek alternatives to neo-liberal globalization and an expansive notion of participation in development processes; but thinking about these groups in “resistance” to globalization sets up a binary opposition that is dangerously simplistic as an explanatory device. On organizational, technical, and theoretical levels, a more sophisticated approach to the analysis of cybernetworking dynamics would highlight the complex and contradictory elements of ICT enabled development networks; the differential power relations that these invoke and produce; and the internal and external sites of struggle where these processes play out. For example, cybernetworked development organizations comprise a heterogeneous range of differentially motivated individuals (including elite, well-educated staff professionals in the global south and north, numerous categories of beneficiary/marginalized populations or clients, academics, and sometimes even corporate sponsors), whose various linkages shape ICT4D networks. Furthermore, development institutions and their critics have become increasingly intertwined as a function of the use of ICTs. For instance, the World Bank's 2001 World Development Report on Poverty was heavily influenced by internal and external Bank critics, whose pressure for greater attention to social justice paradigms was channeled partly through online forums, and whose results were exemplified in the Bank's “Voices of the Poor” initiative. 7 Likewise, as Bair and Gereffi (2001) have shown in their analysis of global commodity chains, critics of export processing zone (EPZ) production must be seen as part of the chain of production in some sense. In parallel on a technological level, the term “digital divide” is widely used to explain the conditions of access to cyberspace, yet it also simplifies the complexities of ICT access and use by people within developing spheres. In the rich countries, access is understood mostly as an economic factor in the private domain,8 but in the developing world, ICT use is complicated by a host of conditions that stratify, control, and limit participation. These include material conditions such as access to telephony and electricity; social conditions of gender, racial or ethnic bias; and the training that allows people to envision how ICTs might be used for development. Even with the growth of community access to ICT (IFPRI, 2000), the digital landscape is guarded in some rural locations by the internal politics of the organization controlling the hardware. Concerns about the use of ICT for development are especially pertinent for women in the developing world, where the feminization of the global economy,9 gender bias in development,10 and impacts of new technology introduction for women11 have had mixed results for women. While the international women's movement has been on the forefront of ICT use for regional and global organizing,12 the tentacles of electronic networking have extended in limited and spotty patterns into the margins of the rural developing world.13 Despite the concurrent rise of local grassroots women's organizations that address issues of economic, political and subjective empowerment,14Alvarez (1998, p. 316) has noted that the “NGO-ization” of some parts of the Latin American feminist movement, supported in large part by their growing use of ICT, is in danger of leaving the issues and concerns of rural women behind. The problematic role of ICT for rural women has been supported by evidence from a variety of studies and conferences.15 Most recently, UNSTRAW and UNIFEM research in preparation for the upcoming World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) incorporated input from rural women, however this input continues to be largely mediated by elite women with access to the Internet. In recognition of this problem, gender and ICT4D advocates within the WSIS process have coalesced a common policy statement that not only derives from the concrete ICT4D experiences of rural women, but also seeks to extend the reach of policymaking networks to rural women.16 All these examples illustrate the contradictions and challenges inherent in a basic ICT4D assumption: that the increasing local presence of ICT and the existence of networks, in and of themselves, will necessarily support the accomplishment of more participatory development agendas. Instead, it asks us to view the digital divide as a complex fracturing of opportunity and constraint at many sites, which triggers differential individual and group capacity to access, command, and produce the electronic tools and cyberspaces of alternatives within global change. Analytically, the demystification of this elongated and intricate field of struggle requires sophisticated techniques. While studies have evaluated the Internet-linked EZLN movement,17 and the gray literature is beginning to report evidence of innovative experiments around ICT related development,18 the truth is that scant attention has been paid to the ethnography of development networks at a refined scale (Escobar, 2001).19 This is partially because it is somewhat early to report on impacts of experiments in crossing the digital divide (FAO, 2001). But beyond that, clearer understandings of the constructions of cybernetworks require theoretical frameworks that can cope with geographies of cybernetworking and cyberspace. As Graham (1998) has explained in his review of geographical theorizations of cyberspace, early notions of cyberspace saw it as a separate sphere that either substituted for or mirrored life. This vision resulted in the transcendent virtual realities that have come to pervade discourses, media and entertainment related to ICT; and produced a version of cyberspace that was technologically deterministic in that it was seen as a force that would transform society unidirectionally. This early thinking about cyberspace paralleled the binary oppositions of orthodox globalization theory emerging at the same time. This work conceptualized a “network society” of ICT-enabled flexible accumulation and integrated cultural flows20 in which “some places may be switched off the network, their disconnection resulting in instant decline, and thus in economic, social and physical deterioration” (Castells, 1996, pp. 413 and 133–135). While neo-Marxists saw globalization as a source of uneven development and social injustice, this critique still fell into strong global–local binaries.21 In contrast, and increasingly, counter-discourses of globalization deny the black and white dichotomies of orthodox scenarios (Kelly, 1999; Vertovec, 1999). Recent research on global processes, including economic restructuring and value chains,22 transnational migration and entrepreneurship,23 transnational social movements,24 political organizing,25 and cultural flows,26 contradicts the binary oppositions of early globalization discourse, and show that global change is not only more multidirectional, but more complex, than previously assumed. These conclusions have been mirrored by more nuanced understandings of cyberspace, such as the “coevolutionist” approach, that emphasized the dialectical and articulated production of cyberspace and place. Despite this recursive interaction between places and ICT networks, however, Graham (op. cit. p. 171) argues that the coevolutionist approach retains political economic orientations to binary opposition between global and local. Alternatively, Graham argues that a better spatial framework for understanding cybernetworks can be derived from actor-network theories (ANT) that take “relational views of the social construction of technology further” (ibid p. 177). Below, I draw on Graham's recommendation in a review of the key ingredients of an actor-network analysis that make ANT a valuable framework for evaluating ICT4D, and in doing so situate the discussion of FIDAMERICA cybernetic life histories that follows.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Given the potential impact of the FIDAMERICA Concurso life histories by virtue of their construction, personal impact, and content, what is the reality of their impact so far? On the one hand, the collective process has allowed them to be manipulated by the actors who have controlled the Concurso process. Over the last three years, the life histories have been buried within the FIDAMERICA website, and parts of this conference, (including recently, judges comments), have been deleted. As part of my research, I have discussed the possibility of creating a women's cybernetwork for the women involved in the Concurso and other women connected to FIDAMERICA, but I have received mixed responses and support for this idea from IFAD and FIDAMERICA staff. IFAD high-level staff have been very supportive of what one of them has called an “innovation,” 59 but without offering money. Although the director of FIDAMERICA is willing to cooperate by setting up a web page and offering his time to put together a one-week computer training and organizational workshop for the participants, he has clearly stated that there is no additional money within FIDAMERICA for this effort. One project director has been collaborative, in the sense that he would like to integrate this project with the planned construction of office centers for new agricultural cooperatives in his region. On the other hand, the FIDAMERICA life histories represented an expansion of the collaborative testimonio process applied to a progressive and innovative experiment in challenging dominant cyberspace. It gave top administrators and project staff of IFAD and FIDAMERICA projects and other interested transnational parties the opportunity to listen to the voices of rural women; it set up a preliminary collaborative structure for building, layering and creating knowledge and political action; it positively impacted the authors in several ways; and it modeled alternative subjectivities. In all these ways, it began to systematize the use of life history writing as a ICT related development tool. In the end the Concurso de Mujeres represents the mixed potential of a collaborative cybernetic process at this scale. Website gatekeepers can passively “disappear” information; collections, discussions and interpretations of original material can adjust original meanings intended by life history authors; institutional financial support can be “unavailable” to continue the project; or the ball can be dropped completely on a project. In these perhaps unintentional but unfortunate erasures, voices stay marginalized. On the other hand, while it can be argued that the Concurso de Mujeres has not provided tangible, direct benefits to the women participants so far, it has had indirect effects on IFAD staff, for the authors themselves, and it attracted my attention as a sympathetic northern researcher and inspired my activist objectives to help develop a cybernetwork for this group. From an actor-network perspective, the current gap in movement towards the production of a network can also be interpreted in the frame of a blank figure.60 The blank figure represents nothing, and certainly, there are important hurdles to be crossed to continue the work of the Concurso. However, since my visit to the authors and IFAD staff, the idea of a campesinas' network has been planted. No longer is it an empty blank. It is now a blank space that holds a vision for what might lie ahead. As Metcalfe (2001, p. 247) argues: Although we routinely talk of distance, separation always retains an implicit sense of connection. Surrounding ever thing is no-thing, a ground or horizon which is and isn't there. This nothing is formless flesh which holds in place the things that, in turn, hold it. Kaplan (1992, p. 135) calls a transnational approach that emphasizes collaborative work like that shown in the FIDAMERICA life histories, “feminist writing technologies.” She argues that this approach “can transform cultural production from individualized and aestheticized procedures to collaborative, historicized, transnational coalitions.” In doing so, it can incorporate difference and still achieve feminist agendas based on common problems that operate in different ways in different places. This would be an important step in incorporating disenfranchised rural women on their own terms into the process of gendering ICT related development and governance policies at state, regional and global levels.61 In the actor-network sense, it is possible to situate the Concurso into IFAD's larger regionalization of gender mainstreaming and leadership development, which is in turn situated within broader networks of gender and ICT4D policymaking. New IFAD projects in Honduras (and to a certain extent in El Salvador) 62 have been designed to transfer complete planning and development power and initiative to the beneficiaries; and this would bode well for ongoing leadership and empowerment for the rural women who are part of this process. Yet, as ICTs become an increasing part of development, how will IFAD integrate these technological elements more directly into its GAD agenda? The experience of the Concurso de Mujeres suggests that IFAD is not quite ready to transfer control of this technology from the institutional level to the grassroots level. Yet, for rural women in an era of ICT4D, access to the technology, capacity to envision its potential, and the use of its communicative processes are vital to their ability to influence the creation of a more participatory, empowered and transformative form of ICT4D. Will technological bias prove to be the barrier that it has often been for women in development, or will campesinas be able to fully link to cybernetic actor networks that have been created by IFAD, and in doing so, surmount this historical border?