Pushing Personhood into Place: Situating Media in the Transfer of Rural Knowledge in Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Nicola J. Bidwell
  • Heike Winschiers-Theophilus
  • Gereon K. Kapuire
  • Matthias Rehm

Abstract

Designing interactions with technologies compatible with rural wisdom and skills can digitally enfranchise rural people and contribute to community cohesion in the face of Africa's urbanization. Oral information, contextualized in material settings, has sustained rural identity and livelihood for generations; but technology-use can inadvertently displace knowledge for communities with knowledge traditions that differ from those of technology-design. Devices which are sensitive to users' locations, combined with platforms for social networking and user-generated-content, offer intriguing opportunities for rural communities to extend their knowledge practices digitally. We present insights on the way rural people, of the Herero tribe, manage information, spatially and
temporally, within our design endeavors in Namibia. Rural participants had not depicted their wisdom graphically, by photography or video before, rarely use writing materials and some cannot read. We reflect on a year of Ethnographic Action Research in which participants created or interpreted video recordings about their knowledge. We discuss themes distilled from ethnography and detailed analysis of 30 hours of observer- and participant- recorded video and participants' interpretations and interactions with thumbnail photos from video, photography and writing materials. These themes use some classical anthropological 'tropes' and describe verbal and bodily interactions, relationships between bodies, artifacts and settings and concepts about personhood, community and place. We adopt a critical attitude towards assumptions about spatial, temporal and social logics and literacies to promote a design sensitivity to local experiences of locations. This motivates us to emphasize connections, not points, and the bodily absorption of location and social relations. We discuss designs that emulate the way participants identify social convergence to orient information and use voice, gesture and movement to push locations into this dialogic. Representations must coalesce socialrelational and topokinetic, rather than topographic, spaces. We hope our reflections will inspire others to examine the spatial, temporal and social affordances of technologies within the bonds of rural communities in digitally-sparse 'under-developed' settings.
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Designing interactions with technologies compatible with rural wisdom and skills can digitally enfranchise rural people and contribute to community cohesion in the face of Africa's urbanization. Oral information, contextualized in material settings, has sustained rural identity and livelihood for generations; but technology-use can inadvertently displace knowledge for communities with knowledge traditions that differ from those of technology-design. Devices which are sensitive to users' locations, combined with platforms for social networking and user-generated-content, offer intriguing opportunities for rural communities to extend their knowledge practices digitally. We present insights on the way rural people, of the Herero tribe, manage information, spatially and
temporally, within our design endeavors in Namibia. Rural participants had not depicted their wisdom graphically, by photography or video before, rarely use writing materials and some cannot read. We reflect on a year of Ethnographic Action Research in which participants created or interpreted video recordings about their knowledge. We discuss themes distilled from ethnography and detailed analysis of 30 hours of observer- and participant- recorded video and participants' interpretations and interactions with thumbnail photos from video, photography and writing materials. These themes use some classical anthropological 'tropes' and describe verbal and bodily interactions, relationships between bodies, artifacts and settings and concepts about personhood, community and place. We adopt a critical attitude towards assumptions about spatial, temporal and social logics and literacies to promote a design sensitivity to local experiences of locations. This motivates us to emphasize connections, not points, and the bodily absorption of location and social relations. We discuss designs that emulate the way participants identify social convergence to orient information and use voice, gesture and movement to push locations into this dialogic. Representations must coalesce socialrelational and topokinetic, rather than topographic, spaces. We hope our reflections will inspire others to examine the spatial, temporal and social affordances of technologies within the bonds of rural communities in digitally-sparse 'under-developed' settings.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Human-Computer Studies
Volume69
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)618-631
ISSN1071-5819
DOI
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

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