i181 Technology and Poverty

Spring 2011



Course Readings:

1. Course Reader available at Copy Central on Bancroft

About Case Study Readings: Many of our case study readings are accounts filled with detailed descriptions, dates, numbers, and technical specifications. I suggest you address each case study reading with the following questions: What is the underlying model of growth or development (either implicit or explicit) in this case? What are the distinctive elements of the technological form of the case under study? How does this form map to issues of poverty? What is the broader system in place that facilitates the diffusion and use of the technology under study?

[download_syllabus ]


Tues 1/18/11, Introduction to the Course

  • no readings


Thurs 1/20/11, Introduction to Technology Studies (Case: The invention of the bicycle)

What is technology? While development institutions frequently refer to technology and ICTs as an entity with generalized impact we will spend our time in the course ‘disaggregating’ the concept. We will consider technology broadly as artifacts, systems, and as techniques.

  • Bijker, W. (1997) “King of the Road: The Social Construction of the Safety Bicycle” in Bicycles, Bakelites and Bulbs [CR, download PDF]

  • Winner (1999) “Do Artifacts have Politics?” in D. Mackenzie and J. Wajcman (Eds.) The Social Shaping of Technology, pp. 28-40. [CR, download PDF]

Optional Advanced Readings (for Graduate Students and ambitious Undergraduates):

  • Marx, L. (1997) “Technology: the Emergence of a Hazardous Concept.” Social Research, Vol. 64, No. 3, p.965-988. [download PDF]



Tues 1/25/11, Institutional Perspectives on Poverty

What should we identify as our historical starting point for a discussion of “technology and poverty” – the Marshall Plan? Truman’s inaugural address? Do we go back to the Industrial Revolution and the writing of Marx? Many discussions of how technology might be applied to alleviate poverty draw implicitly on theories of growth or development. Some key approaches addressed in this lecture include modernization vs. dependency theories, neoliberalism and new institutionalism.

  • Easterly, W. (2002) “Aid for Investment” in The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics.[CR] [download missing page (pg. 28-29)]

  • Thomas, A. “Meanings and Views of Development” in T. Allen and A. Thomas (Eds) Poverty and Development: Into the 21st century. Oxford University Press (p.23-48). [CR]

  • Sen, A. “What is Development About?” in Meier, G. and J. Stiglitz (Eds) (2001). Frontiers of Development Economics: the future in perspective. Oxford University Press (p. 506-513). [CR]


Thurs 1/27/11, Green Revolution in India

It has been convincingly argued that because of the diffusion of High-Yield Varietals (HYVs) and “modern” agricultural practices that India is now a self-sufficient food producer. Yet distribution issues remain. This lecture will introduce the concept of scale-neutral technologies that benefit both small and large-scale farmers. One overall aim of this lecture is to highlight the additional resources that are required to make use of a technology. This case study provides a lesson in the institutional and political embeddedness of technology.

  • Parayil, G. “The Green Revolution in India: A Case Study of Technological Change.” Technology and Culture, Vol. 33 (1992), p. 737–756. [CR]

  • Prahladachar, M. “Income Distribution Effects of the Green Revolution in India: A Review of Empirical Evidence.” World Development, Vol. 11 (1983), p 927–944. [CR]

Optional Advanced Readings:


Tues 2/1/11, Thinking Big: Industrialization (Case: The Akosombo Dam project in Ghana)

This lecture will discuss the push towards industrialization in many developing regions after independence. This emphasis followed from economic growth models that saw capital investment as the key to realizing economic growth with the presumption that improved social conditions would follow.

  • Smillie, “The Best of the West: Thinking Big,” chapter 3 from Mastering the Machine Revisited: Poverty, Aid and Technology [download PDF]

  • Hans Peter Arp and Karsten Baumgärtel (October 1, 2005). Case Study: The Consequences of the Akosombo Dam. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. (You can skip or browse Section 3) [download PDF]


Thurs 2/3/11, Critique of Neoclassical Development Theory: Natural Resources and Sustainability

Neoclassical development theory and its discourse constructs a particular understanding of man-made and natural worlds, of society and the role of government. This lecture discusses some negative outcomes of the ‘Green Revolution’ in terms of short-term productivity gains that had consequences for long-term resource management prompting a shift in thinking towards the concept of ’sustainability.’

  • Mitchell, T. (1991). “America’s Egypt: Discourse of the Development Industry.” Middle East Report: 255-272. [CR]

Additional background information (optional):



Tues 2/8/11, Poverty as Diversely Experienced

This lecture tackles some of the shortcomings of statistical and metrics-based approaches to measuring and understanding poverty. We will explore how poverty is diversely experienced and how cross-national comparisons often conceal other dimensions of what it means to be poor.

  • Smillie, “Poverty in the South,” chapter 2 from Mastering the Machine Revisited: Poverty, Aid and Technology [website]

  • Chambers, R. “Poverty and Livelihoods: whose reality counts?” Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 7, No. 1 (April 1995), p. 173-204. [CR]


Thurs 2/10/11, Guest Speaker: Paul Goodman, Masters student, School of Information, speaking about his involvement with DAI (Development Alternatives, Inc) and USAID

Tues 2/15/11, Group Discussion and Planning Session for Assignment 1

  • Reading Selections for Assignment 1 (will be made available on website 1 week prior)

Thurs 2/17/11, Thinking Small: the Appropriate Technologies Movement

A movement in the wake of some of the consequences of large-scale, capital intensive projects. Schumacher, an economist writes the seminal text Small is Beautiful promoting a philosophy of accommodating indigenous cultures and producing benefits for the rural poor through direct access to ‘appropriate’ technologies. We will discuss how this philosophy has been translated into some specific artifacts such as improved cook stoves and water pumps.

  • Schumacher, E. F. (1973).”Buddhist Economics” and “Social and Economic Problems Calling for the Development of Intermediate Technology,” in Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Harper and Row Publishers. (p. 50-59, 161-179). [CR]

  • Kammen, D. M. and M. R. Dove “The Virtues of Mundane Science.” Environment, Vol. 39 No. 6 (July/August 1997), p.10-41. [CR]

  • Fisher, M. (2006). “Income is Development: KickStart’s Pumps Help Kenyan Farmers Transition to a Cash Economy” Innovations: MIT Press. [website]

Optional Advanced Readings

  • The rest of Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

  • De Laet, Marianne and Annemarie Mol. (2000). “The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology,” Social Studies of Science 30(2): 225–63.[download PDF]


Tues 2/22/11, Guest Speaker on Appropriate Technologies: Ryan Shelby, PhD student, Mechanical Engineering, speaking about “Tribal Sovereignty in the Pinoleville Pomo Nation: Sustainable Housing and Renewable Energy Technologies”

Thurs 2/24/11, Group Presentation Session for Assignment 1


Tues 3/1/11, The Digital Divide and the Information Society

The two concepts of the ‘Digital Divide’ and the ‘Information Society’ have been central in arguments for the necessity of providing access to digital technologies to poor and marginalized societies. These concepts rework some of the institutional themes of development and growth that we covered in the third lecture. In this lecture we will cover some of the advantages and disadvantages (rhetorical and pragmatic) of framing problems of poverty and social exclusion in these particular ways.

  • Keniston, K. (2004). “Introduction: The Four Digital Divides.” in K. Keniston and R. Kumar (Eds) Experience in India: Bridging the Digital Divide, Sage Publications. (p. 11-36). [CR]

  • Webster, F. (2002). “The Information Society Revisited.” in L. Lievrouw and S. Livingstone. (Eds) The Handbook of New Media. (p. 443-457). [CR]

Optional Readings:

  • World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), Geneva Declaration of Principles. Available Online: http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/dop.html (to get a taste of the discourse about digital technologies currently being produced by development institutions)


Thurs 3/3/11, Telecommunications

This lecture is about the political economy of telecommunications infrastructure. Many have argued for deregulation by telling tales of the inefficiencies of monopolistic state-owned phone companies. There are additional challenges for data networks. For example, to date much of the network traffic for Africa is routed through the U.S.

  • Pitroda, S. “Development, Democracy and the Village Telephone.” Harvard Business Review, (Nov-Dec 1993), p.66-79. [CR]

  • Association for Progressive Communications ICT Policy Handbook – read chapter 13 “telecommunication networks,” chapter 15 “telecoms industry and market structure,” chapter 16 “telecoms policy and regulation.” [download PDF]


Tues 3/8/11, Public Internet Access (Case: Internet kiosks in India)

Access to computing and the Internet is often argued as a pathway towards a variety of social goods – transparency of government, improvement in trade, or educational opportunities. Public access models are often the most feasible way to accomplish this broader access at a low cost. Such projects may be funded by the private sector, by government agencies, or by NGOs. The services they offer range from completely open-ended to very narrowly defined. This session will consider two public ‘kiosk’ projects in India and how the on-the-ground reality diverged from what was envisioned by funders and project planners.

  • DIT, Government of India (July 2005). Information and Communications Technologies for Development: A Comparative Analysis of Impacts and Costs from India. A report. Read: Introduction (pgs. 4-10) and Chap. VIII. on the Bhoomi project (pgs. 134-171).[ Download PDF]

  • Rangaswamy, N. (2006). “Social Entrepreneurship as Critical Agency: A Study of Rural Internet Kiosks.” ICTD Conference. Berkeley, CA. [CR]


Thurs 3/10/11, Gender and Technology

New technologies may reproduce or exacerbate inequalities between men and women in the Global South. Or they may offer new capacities that women can leverage to address these inequalities. Available technologies do not impact women uniformly as a group. This lecture will consider the heterogeneity among women as a social group and how this relates to the uptake and application of new digital connectivity tools.

  • Cockburn, C. (1992). The Circuit of Technology: gender, identity and power. Consuming Technologies: media and information in domestic spaces. R. Silverstone and E.Hirsch. London, Routledge: 32-47 [CR]

  • Kuriyan R. and K. Kirtner (2009) “Constructing Class Boundaries: Gender, Aspiration and Shared Computing” Information Technology and International Development. 5(1): 17-29. [CR]

Optional Advanced Readings:

  • Burrell, J. (2010) “Evaluating Shared Access: social equality and the circulation of mobile phones in rural Uganda.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 15(2): 230-250. [download PDF]


Tues 3/15/11, Low Cost Devices (Case: The One Laptop Per Child project) – Guest Speaker: Morgan Ames, PhD student, Department of Communication, Stanford University, speaking on the OLPC in Paraguay

This session considers the design of custom devices adapted to the particular limits and needs of computing devices for poor/marginalized populations and remote regions. The One Laptop Per Child program (formerly the $100 PC) is the most high-profile effort of this with school-aged children as the expected beneficiaries.

  • GLORY: laptop/river road/USA for Africa/textese/forgotten vegetables/NGOs, by Binyavanga Wainaina, Bidoun.com online magazine, Issue 10, Spring 2007. [CR]

  • Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames (2010) “Can One Laptop Per Child Save the World’s Poor?” Journal of International Affairs 64(1) [download PDF]

Thurs 3/17/11, Hands-On Workshop and Critique of the One Laptop Per Child project


Tues 3/22/11, SPRING BREAK, no class

Thurs 3/24/11, SPRING BREAK, no class


Tues 3/29/11, Information and Markets: Mobile Phones and Trade (Case: Phones in the fishing industry – Kerala, India vs. Lake Victoria, Uganda)

Economists are especially interested in how mobile phones may reduce price asymmetries and drive down the overall price for certain commodities (grain, fish) in markets in developing regions. This lecture will examine the evidence for this argument and relate it to important supporting points and counterpoints made by Sociologists and Anthropologists who suggest that beyond information, trust between traders is also essential.

  • Eggleston, K. et al. (2002). “Information and Communication Technologies, Markets and Economic Development.” In G. Kirkman, J. Sachs, K. Schwab and P. Cornelius (Eds.) The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002: readiness for the networked world. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [CR]

  • Overa, R. “Networks, Distance, and Trust: Telecommunications Development and Changing Trading Practices in Ghana.” World Development,Vol. 34, No. 7 (2005), p. 1301-1315. [CR]

Optional Advanced Readings:

  • Browse: Jensen, R. (2007) “The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance, and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector” – our case study piece, students with a background in economics may wish to read this in depth [download PDF]


Thurs 3/31/11, Information and Markets: Microfinance and Mobile Banking

This lecture will emphasize the point that rural poor populations can benefit from financial services, but that these services must be configured in a different way. We will discuss the recent interest in providing financial services via mobile phones to reach “unbanked” populations.

  • Rutherford, S. “The Economics of Poverty: How Poor People Manage Their Money.” Ideas in Development Journal: Communities Without Borders [CR]

  • Medhi, I., N.N. Gautama et al. (2009). A Comparison of Mobile Money-Transfer Uis for Non-Literate and Semi-Literate Users. Computer-Human Interaction Conference. Boston, MA [CR]

  • Morawczynski, O. and M.Pikens. (2009). Poor People Using Mobile Financial Services: Observations on Customer Usage and Impact from M-PESA. CGAP Brief, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor. [CR]


Tues 4/5/11, Beyond Information: Dynamics of Digital Representation

The previous lectures on mobile phones, trade, and microfinance dealt with a more traditional concept of information. In this session we will critique the way ‘information’ is employed as a self-evident public good – as demonstrated in the rhetoric of the “information society” or the truism that ‘information wants to be free.’ Looking to other cultural contexts we can begin to see other systems of value, interactional dynamics, and social pressures that guide the creation and management of digitally mediated content.

  • Burrell, J. (2008). “Problematic Empowerment: West African Internet Scams as Strategic Misrepresentation” Information Technology and International Development. 4(4): 15-30. [CR]


Thurs 4/7/11, Beyond Information: Citizen Empowerment?

We will consider the Internet and social media tools in relation to elections, political systems, and the authority of the State. Newly affordable and widespread tools such as the mobile phone, SMS, and digital cameras allow ordinary citizens to document and spread media messages. The ability of the State to filter and restrict connectivity and to employ these same tools to do surveillance on the citizenry must be considered as a counterpoint to these possibilities for citizen empowerment.

Additional background information:


Tue 4/12/11, Health – Laura Stachel (M.D. M.P.H) founder of WE CARE solar – a portable solar lighting and electricity solution for rural health clinics to reduce maternal mortality – http://wecaresolar.com/index.html

  • Malkin, R. “Design of Health Care Technologies for the Developing World,” Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering, 9 (2007), p. 567-587. [CR]

Thurs 4/14/11, Agriculture – Guest Speaker: Neil Patel (PhD student, Computer Science, Stanford University) on “Avaaj Otalo” a voice-based agricultural extension service for rural India.

Tue 4/19/11, International Migration Review Session!

  • Assignment #2 and the Final Project

  • Do Artifacts Have Politics? (Winner)

  • Social Construction of Technology (Bijker)

  • Small is Beautful (Schumacher)

  • The Four Digital Divides (Keniston)

  • The Information Society Revisited (Webster)



Thurs 4/21/11, Participatory Development

Ways of engaging the targeted beneficiaries in the creation of projects and programs for poverty-alleviation will be discussed as they relate to technology projects.

  • Reread – Chambers, ‘Poverty and Livelihoods: whose reality counts?’

  • Tacchi, Slater, and Hearn (2003). Ethnographic Action Research, Chapter 3. Action Research and ICTs [download PDF]

Tues 4/26/11, When Things Don’t Go as Planned: Technical Research and its Challenges in Developing Regions, Guest Speaker: Divya Ramachandran (PhD, graduate EECS Berkeley)

  • Brewer et al. (2006) “The Challenges of Technology Research for Developing Regions” Pervasive Computing, April-June 2006 [download PDF]

Thurs 4/28/11, Social Entrepreneurship

This lecture will address new thinking about how entrepreneurial and business approaches can serve a social mission and provide innovative and economically sustainable goods and services to the poor. The “Bottom of the Pyramid” concept will be introduced and explored.

  • Prahalad, C.K., and A. Hammond. (2002). “Serving the World’s Poor, Profitably.” Harvard Business Review, Vol. 80, No. 9, p. 48-57. [download PDF]

  • Bornstein, D. (2007). “The Light in my Head Went On.” in How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. Oxford University Press. (p. 21-40). [download PDF]

RRR week

Guest Speakers: Tapan Parikh (Assistant Professor, School of Information)/Neil Patel (PhD student, Computer Science, Stanford University) speaking on “Avaaj Otalo” a voice-based agricultural extension service for rural India.