Challenging the Concept of Technology Appropriation in the Field of ICT4D

Full title: The End-User is the Message: Challenging the Concept of Technology Appropriation in the Field of ICT4D

Based on empirical research on the use of traditional and new ICTs by social movements in Latin America, as well as the use of mobile phones in Africa, this paper seeks to interrogate notions at the intersection of information and communication technologies (ICTs), development, and technology appropriation. While the articulation of links between the ICT and development worlds has found some expression in the ICT for development (ICT4D) community, there is still a fundamental gap between expectations and realities in the development-oriented efforts within this community. Not only do several ICT4D projects fail to deliver the envisioned results, but target populations often use the ICTs at their disposal in surprising ways. One of the perspectives that has emerged in response to observed unexpected uses and outcomes of ICT use is that of technology appropriation, broadly defined as the process by which people make a technology their own. Views from this perspective often produce more pragmatic depictions of end-user engagement with the offerings of ICT4D. They also highlight the largely positive relationship between the openness of technological systems and the ability of end users to appropriate and innovate with the technology. Yet the conceptualizations associated with technology appropriation, ICTs, and development remain unsatisfactory for several reasons including the following – they maintain a relatively dominant focus on technological artifacts; they are based on a relatively inflexible conception of development impacts; they show limited recognition of the multiplicity of possible and actual development paths; they do not fully capture the role of end-users as influential actors; and they do not account for the varied ecology of actors participating in the practice of ICT appropriation. Drawing on Sen’s capabilities approach to development and Wertsch’s concept of mediated action, we begin an exploration of the utility of the concept of technology appropriation as a means of characterizing what happens when people engage with ICTs for personal, community, and global development. To a great degree, flexibility built into the design of ICTs facilitates technology appropriation and, in theory, should enable people to pursue the goals that they have reason to value. Even so, we caution against unduly celebrating incidences of ICT appropriation without a full appreciation of the conditions that led to such appropriations. We argue that to be truly open, the ICT for development space requires flexibility (or openness) not only in the design of ICT artifacts, systems, and contexts, but also in ideas about what constitutes technology appropriation and what counts as development.

Authors: Araba Sey and Maria Garrido

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License