Beki Grinter

ICTD: Talking about talking about Kenya

In academic management, discipline, empirical, ICT4D, research on March 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm

My final ICTD post has taken a while to write, I wanted to have some time to reflect upon the experience. The experience in question was watching a series of talks focused on Kenya from both Kenyan and non-Kenyan researchers. Here’s a post that summarizes one concern that was raised for non-Kenyan researchers, the “researcher effect.”

But I think there was something else going on (I think it might be the “othering effect” and I would welcome feedback on that). I felt that I was sensing a significant difference in the way that Kenya was being discussed when I compared foreigners talking about Kenya and Kenyans talking about Kenya. At ICTD, I heard from Kenyans about the excitement surrounding the vibrant technology innovation culture. Its a technology culture that’s not just having impact on Kenya, but all around the world. Ushahidi is a great example of this. By contrast, the talks from foreigners seemed to focus more on problems, ones that needed and could be addressed through technology. It was well meant of course.

But these two discourses are very different. One is a discourse of opportunity and the other a discourse of problems. And I think thinking about these differences and discourses is very important because the United States (and countries like it) have an abundance of the types of institutions that produce and control the production of scholarly discourse. This gives us a disproportionate control over it including what constitutes knowledge about places and people who are not in the United States. We have great power to amplify perceptions of other places and people and give them value through the legitimacy conferred on all scholarship.

Also, I think it’s a real win of ICTD that there are enough people here who are not foreign to remind us of how foreigners talk about their home. That’s a real strength of the ICTD conference. I’ve been wondering what it would be like if more of our participants came to CHI. What would they think about the ways that we talk about them?

  1. Your observation is quite apt. The “othering effect” seems to carry implications for which narrative holds the most muster on and off the field. This concern was raised, on several occasions, by attendees from the Global South and I truly hope we (foreigners and non-foreigners alike) will keep this in mind as we seek to tackle the opportunities and challenges we encounter in the larger development context.

  2. +1000000 I hate the way every intervention is practically a messiah with very little local context. When someone jets in, they come to solve a problem they saw on CNN, Wikipedia or CIA fact book! All I, we ask is do own your homework

    • Thanks for the comment. I think doing homework… I can think of some things (reading about — but using more than just US based sources) and also partnering with local institutions who do have more context and perspective. If you have any other recommendations that would be great… especially for things to read, people’s research who meets the bar, all would be very helpful I am sure.

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