Technological Futures and the Myth of Digital Universalism
288 pp., 6 x 9 in, 9 b&w photos
- Published: January 31, 2014
- Published: January 31, 2014
An exploration of the diverse experiments in digital futures as they advance far from the celebrated centers of technological innovation and entrepreneurship.
In Networking Peripheries, Anita Chan shows how digital cultures flourish beyond Silicon Valley and other celebrated centers of technological innovation and entrepreneurship. The evolving digital cultures in the Global South vividly demonstrate that there are more ways than one to imagine what digital practice and global connection could look like. To explore these alternative developments, Chan investigates the diverse initiatives being undertaken to “network” the nation in contemporary Peru, from attempts to promote the intellectual property of indigenous artisans to the national distribution of digital education technologies to open technology activism in rural and urban zones.
Drawing on ethnographic accounts from government planners, regional free-software advocates, traditional artisans, rural educators, and others, Chan demonstrates how such developments unsettle dominant conceptions of information classes and innovations zones. Government efforts to turn rural artisans into a new creative class progress alongside technology activists' efforts to promote indigenous rights through information tactics; plans pressing for the state wide adoption of open source–based technologies advance while the One Laptop Per Child initiative aims to network rural classrooms by distributing laptops. As these cases show, the digital cultures and network politics emerging on the periphery do more than replicate the technological future imagined as universal from the center.
Networking Peripheries reveals a Peru moving towards a dynamic and diverse future, in terms of both technology and culture. Chan clearly has a high regard, and legitimate concern, for the people and organizations she has engaged with—artisans, teachers, government officials, activists. Anyone who feels that they already understand the full impact of Internet technology on human culture and community may be surprised and intrigued by the first-hand material presented in this important text.
Anita Chan's outstanding book stages a fascinating contest over the stubborn difference of human culture and the universalizing aspirations of the Internet and digital culture. Her tour of contemporary Peru shows the reader how Chulucanas pottery can become the digital future of the country and cheap American laptops an object of local artisanal struggle. Whether it is IP Law, entrepreneurialism, software coding or educational technology, she elaborately details the surprise that comes of experiencing a cultural difference in exactly the place one expected more of the same. Networking Peripheries is that rare book that captures the integration of the necessary particularity of life, and universalizing pressures of global technology, finance and politics. It joins a growing body of scholarship that provides rich, well-researched alternatives to the boring echo chamber of Internet punditry.
Christopher M. Kelty, Department of Information Studies, Department of Anthropology, UCLA
Digital media is all too often cast in terms of the contemporary moment, a set of technologies that will usher us into a better future. Anita Chan's rich ethnography of ICT projects in Peru questions this naïve framing by insisting these initiatives are part of a longer Utopian Enlightenment and colonial drive. The ethnography traverses an impressive range of digital endeavors—from MIT's One Laptop per Child to Free Software initiatives—to demonstrate the historical logics at work that nevertheless play out uniquely in different places and contexts. Written with nuance and verve, Networking Peripheries is not only a true pleasure to read but essential reading for all scholars working on the political life of digital media.
Gabriella Coleman, The Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University
Chan's elegantly written book challenges the idea that nations such as Peru are passive recipients of high-tech culture. By drawing our attention to forms of Peruvian creative production, Chan helps us see the cultural complexities in intellectual property initiatives and the anxieties and aspirations that shape our increasingly networked society.
Eden Medina, author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile