Popular technology: Citizenship and inequality in the information economy
Virginia Eubanks, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, United States
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute . Awarded
I argue in this dissertation that many of the policy efforts grouped under the rubric of the “Digital Divide” are misguided, both empirically and practically. Following Iris Marion Young, I argue that there is a “distributive paradigm” in IT policy, which is an inadequate and incomplete basis for developing strategies to combat the complex inequalities of the information economy. My analysis is derived from three years of participatory research with a community of women who live and work at the YWCA of Troy-Cohoes. Rather than being information or technology “poor,” these women have developed a “critical ambivalence” towards technology, an effect of the mismatch between the stories they hear about IT's potential to enrich their lives and the fact that they disproportionately bear the negative effects of high-tech development. For example, low-income women in Troy, New York hold high-technology jobs of many kinds, but available employment in the information economy tends to increase their economic vulnerability. Low-income women in this community also have a rich array of mainly extractive experiences with bureaucratic information networks in the social service and criminal justice systems. These interactions provide the most important form of “technology training” many women receive, teaching political lessons about their competence, value and worth as citizens.
I use the concept of popular technology education to explore strategies for turning these negative experiences with “technologies of citizenship” into resources for—rather than barriers to—learning and education. Popular technology education combines the best principles of popular education, participatory action research, and participatory design with the goal of fostering critical technological literacy. I describe three examples of popular technology practice in the dissertation: a large public presentation of ROWEL's “Life in the State of Poverty” simulation, the design of a community technology laboratory at the YWCA, and the creation of a popular education exercise called “Beat the System: Surviving Welfare.” These examples of collective, self-interrogating inquiry provide crucial resources for moving beyond “local knowledges” to a technological politics and practice based on difference, and allows us to imagine justice in the information economy as if low-income women mattered.
Eubanks, V. Popular technology: Citizenship and inequality in the information economy. Ph.D. thesis, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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