Using mixed methods to understand a mixed field

So after 13 weeks and 4000 pages of reading, I finally finished all my term papers on December 16.  My goal was to explore the world of ICT4D and ICT4Peace in ways I hadn’t thought of before.  I was introduced to anthropological theories of the person (challenging for me, a dedicated positivist), and critical theory (not really a Marxist either).  And when all was said and done, I got to write about technology, peace and development in a way that was enjoyable and expanded how I thought of the field.  The papers aren’t ready for publication yet, and are being prepared for conferences, but here are the abstracts with links to the working papers:

Post-Ethnic Politics?

Why do mobile phones have such a significant effect on conflict prevention, using the Kenyan case study?

 The phenomenon of politicized ethnic identity and its accompanying violence is a unique challenge for conflict resolution theoreticians and practitioners.  The mix of central narrative control and information asymmetries between ethnic groups and their leaders within the government creates a dynamic where ethnic identities can be manipulated toward violent ends for political gain.  In this space have emerged public mapping platforms, SMS text message based public reporting systems, and social media, all of which are changing the way that governance and conflict prevention is undertaken.  Kenya’s post-colonial political development has been marked by a politics of division, where politicians found success in maintaining conflict between ethnic groups in order to control voting blocs.  This practice underpinned the significant violence over the disputed election in 2007-8, nearly pushing the country to civil war.  What has made Kenya unique since 2008 is the proliferation of political activism through the increasingly ubiquitous mobile phone system and indigenously developed mapping software like Ushahidi and Uwiano.  These platforms provide people with a voice to report violence in a public setting, challenging centrally controlled narratives and shrinking information asymmetries between potentially competing groups.  This paper will critically explore why mobile telephonic systems for e-governance and conflict management have been so effective in Kenya, using a formal model to explore the logic and caveats surrounding the impact of mobile phones in peacebuilding and development.

When the Crowd Doesn’t Want to Speak:

Potential challenges for crowdsourcing in traumatized communities

With all the excitement surrounding technologies such as mapping, social media, and mobile telephony as mechanisms for conflict response, political dialogue, and post-disaster recovery, it is easy to forget that different cultures heal in different ways.  Generally referred to as “ICT4D” (Information Communication Technology for Development), the value of crowdsourced information (data and information contributed by the general public using social media or mobile phones) for conflict and disaster recovery is predicated on the distinctly Western notion of public healing, reconciliation and projection of the individual voice.  In this paper I will perform a critical analysis of the crowdsourcing information regime, drawing on lessons learned form transitional justice and TRC commissions which have displayed many of the same intercultural disconnects.  The findings of the analysis point out interesting frames for analyzing the technology for crisis response and recovery realm, where it could be easy to have processes meant to help people be co-opted into the larger system of Western donor development, which favors political economy over human needs.

Resistance, Sustainability and Technology:

A theoretical framework drawing on Marcuse, Luxemburg and


Why are some social change movements sustainable, while others either struggle to survive or fail outright?  Since survival has been achieved in a variety of circumstances, we can rule out environmental factors such as repressive governments or violence as a determinate for success or failure.  Instead this paper will propose a three part process for identifying potential success.  The first step is to identify “one-dimensionality”, drawying from the work of Marcuse.  When a population realizes that an entire system is inherently desired to direct all human efforts toward a single end, the society has become one dimensional.  In this case, we turn to Luxemburg’s critique of incrementalism and parliamentary process to demonstrate that the only way to achieve system change is to eliminate the current system and replace it.  To make this work in practice, Habermas’s theory of Pragmatic Meaning is the process for meaning that we posit is most effective for sustainable change movements.  Finally we will examine emerging social media and mobile technology as an exogenous variable that can provide movements with decentralized communication capacity, which adds safety for activists and a counter-narrative against a centrally controlled media.  To examine these assumptions we will look at the OWS and January 25 movements in comparison with each other; do they fit the model and what can the model critique in terms of their methods and outcomes?  We will also compare these with a historical example, drawing on a brief analysis of the Civil Rights Movement using the same model.  Our goal is to better understand the practical implications of critical theory as part of a process for making change movements sustainable and impactful.

I’m excited to keep working on these; what’s most exciting though is hearing back from my colleagues, readers and fellow thinkers on what can make them better while they’re in the working process.  I look forward to critique and insightful discussions to come!

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