A Web site with a view: The Third World on First Monday
First Monday

Introduction - A Web site with a view: The Third World on First Monday by Eduardo Villanueva Mansilla



Why the Third World?

During its 11 years, First Monday has covered a wide range of issues, many of which have transformed in front of our collective view. However, there is one significant matter waiting for a full review: the relationship between development and technology.

Understood, widely, as a “digital age” journal, the eclecticism of First Monday brings an interesting set of approaches to the development debate. It is more or less obvious that this is an extremely far–reaching discussion, with many specificities to local, national and regional characteristics, and many complications arising from the perspective of those that observe or participate as external consultants and those that finally are the stakeholders, contemplating the success or failure of development policies from within the countries seeking out to improve living conditions. At the same time, the development question is first and foremost in the minds of those living in the poorer countries and regions of our world. As much as it is imprecise and quite old–fashioned, to talk about the Third World serves a purpose: to draw our attention to the areas where the basic needs of the population have not yet been provided, and where the promise of technology should be more than just a better living, but a different living for all.

As such, the diversity of perspectives that has been published in this journal serves as a testimony of the absence of definite answer as much as to the dedication to look for them. The purpose of this special issue of First Monday is not to group together everyone of the articles involving development and the “Third World”, but to try to present the big trends, the main questions being asked, identifying the differences between approaches, thus bringing into focus that one of the problems with addressing development issues is not the issues themselves, but the setting–up of the questions being asked about the issues.

That is the reason why the following is a selection, not an exhaustive list of all material that may be described as “Third World” pertinent. Also, it is a showcase of problems, rather than a collection of success stories; in many cases, the articles being included present approaches that are flawed, that have lost practicality or relevance, or that are no longer current. As such, this selection serves the purpose of reminding us the enormous unfinished business that development means.

So here there are, the selected 30. An arbitrary cutoff line, to keep this issue a reasonable size as well as a showcase, not as an exhaustive compilation. The actual selection of articles has been made considering the following factors:

  1. Wide relevance: the coverage of specific national situations are interesting when the case being exposed is indeed original or presents characteristics that may affect, in time, other countries. Thus, very specific descriptions of national or regional case have been avoided if they do not shed new lights on the wider issues.
  2. International vs. National: In some case, national case studies are useful only as information and the passage of time has made this information not as pertinent as it was. While historical background may be of interest to many, only a few of the reported iniatiatives or debates are pertinent, when seen from afar.
  3. Comparative approaches to the issues relevant in the “First World”: civil liberties, access to information, open access publishing, government services, national information policies, expansion of access to infraestructure and services: there are all matters of concern for all the world, but they take an special character when created or implemented in the developing world. These approaches are extremely interesting as a way to compare the different ways the same problem is dealt with.
  4. Uniqueness: in some cases, the mere presence of an article about a remote country or a very specific issue is, by itself, relevant, both by shedding light on an obscure matter, and by offering us a practical incarnation of the promise of digital communications, bringing the world a little closer.

Finally, there is one factor not to be ignored: the bias of the editor. Coming for the specificity of social sciences academia in Peru, the editor acknowledges his understanding of development as an economic demand rather than as a cultural affirmation, mostly because, one way or another, the relationship between development as a better living and a westernized cultural experience is the norm, rather than the exception, in Latin American countries, with the significant but relatively passé exclusion of militant marxist, revolutionary development. It has to be acknowledge, too, that there are plenty different approaches to development that are not as welcoming to westernization as the Latin American tradition is now, so the economic emphasis shown here is not seen so crucially elsewhere.

The development debates: What exactly are we talking about?

It may be safely postulated that all the countries that belong to the Third World, or to the developing world if preferred, have their sights, precisely, in developing, that is into increasing the collective well–being of the nation and its citizens, generally speaking a better life. Undoubtly, it can also be postulated that the precise definition of what exactly does a better life means changes from country to country, in different and sometimes completely uncommensurable senses.

The basic understanding of development would include thus very specific indicators, even though they may be also debatable in some regions and under some political regimes or ideological perspectives. Increased levels of life expectancy, increased levels of health, increased levels of income and education. Beyond this, there are many areas to be discussed.

Assuming that it is not possible to state a single definition of development, the digital age comes to our rescue: development has been somehow connected to an increased usage of information and communication technology, towards the goal of a better living for all. As the Statement of Principles of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) declares, development regarding IT means using technology towards the goals of the Millenium Declaration. We may dislike or even consider this Declaration a collection of extremely basic, almost elementary goals; or we may despise the economistic approach, and the absence of an spiritual dimension, or the inherent progressivism of such a Declaration. But at least it gives us a common launching pad for the debates at hand.

Together with their set of goals, these documents provide with a shared imaginery for development, as a sort of man–made Nirvana to be reached through a series of technological avatars. Each set of transformations brings us closer to it; in the end, there will be a common, shared Better World. Thus, development is reaching for the greater good, and specifically, development in the digital era means using ICT towards the greater good, as (ill) defined in the Declarations and Statements du jour.

This interpretation may be called, and with good reason, cynical. Ignoring the obvious shortcomings of development–by–committee, the Statements and Declarations provide with a common perspective, as said before, that is somehow quite needed since there are so many different understandings of development as to make it something impossible to achieve as a collective endeavor, thus impeding any international or global approach. That’s the reason why the global summits are necessary: without them, we as a collective would be lacking a bigger picture to focus on, and would have to dedicate ourselves to almost solipsistic travails, at the national and even at the local level. It would not work.

This need is evident in the FM articles that debate development. Even when dealing with national policies, they show the synchronicity (or absence of it) with the international debates and positions. Thus, we need to read them not as national cases or even as something that has happened somewhere else, in an exotic otherworld we only look at as tourists. They are examples on how to deal with our problems even when they are not exactly the same.

1. National analysis and policies

There was a time when every country had to have a national e–policy. The successes and failures of the implementation are probably attributable to the characteristics of each and every country, rather than to the drafted policies themselves. While some countries, with powerful and somewhat efficient burocracies, and with human and financial resources, are in better position to implement any kind of public policy, others are not even able to draft a final document. So the value of each national policy has to be assessed locally, specially since many of these documents followed a template set up by the international community and the successful, early adopters.

So, what will be the value of including any article about such policies? Most probably, on their silences and omissions, rather than in their similarity to the standards of the time. Mohammed Ibahrine’s article on E–Morocco (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_1/ibahrine/) serves as a perfect showcase: many of the technological issues are covered, and many of the social ones are too, but there is little mention of political and cultural questions, like using the Internet to increase goverment transparency, or to enhance political discussion, or to foster cultural expression of minorities groups, that are less common since they tend to be quite controversial; this is particularly salient considering the stated interest of the author on Islam–oriented political movements.

Blakemore and Dutton’s review of the Jordanian situation (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_11/blakemore/) is quite different: by assessing the pitfalls and shortcomings of the Kingdom’s policies they are trying to make a point about the need to be creative when developing a e–government strategy, and this is a lessson for all countries doing such a policy effort, not just for Jordan. The end result is a very compelling and certain a very useful article, even today, when the “e–policy” fever has subsided.

Finally, Alan Peslak’s general review of “information society” policies and proposals (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_5/peslak/) is a fine article, as a summation of trends, but also as a listing of areas of concern for developing policies. Since it is — necesarily — a brief list rather than an exhaustive analysis, it has some generalizations that have to be taken into account before reading: the political and philosophical background is extremely Western, even Anglo–Saxon centered; the use of “digital divide” as a designator is of debatable usefulness. But it is a fine starting point for those interested in an analytical framework for national policies, especially since it was written after the World Summit on the Information Society, thus having plenty of opportunities for covering as many of these national plans as possible.

1.2. Strategies for development: Technologies and media

Two sets of articles are interesting here. First of all, Larry Press has published three articles on First Monday that are extremely relevant to the topic of this special issue (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_9/press/, http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_4/press/ and http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_8/press/). The three are concerned with the digital divide, not as a definite set of analytical issues, but as a generic situation: the absence of Internet presence in the rural communities of the developing world. While the first is a more sedate, technical discussion of the benefits, economic and other, of choosing WiFi instead of more expensive technologies as 3G mobile telephony, the later two are quite ambitious: the proposal to start a “Grand Challenge” to bring connectivity to all the world, in the form of a Global Rural Network, a 10–year, multibillion dollar project.

Besides any consideration of the lack of success of the proposal, finally a political issue, the articles are quite interesting for its careful considerations of technical, regulatory and policy questions, albeit by necessity briefly. While most probably there will not be such a world wide initiative in the foreseeable future, the most interesting questions raised by Press are not the technical or financially ones, but the obstacles to such endeavor. Intellectual property regulations, lack of content, language barriers, cost and financial sustainability, are some of them. But probably the most important is not actually stated by Press, although it is an undercurrent all through his three articles: lack of institutional mechanisms to even start considering this kind of project. There are no organizations, at any level, able to run a project like this. While quite different in many senses, the current development of the XO Computer by the OLPC consortium has some similarities, since it is a project that thinks of itself as world–transforming, that has sought out financial support by itself, and that has decided to deal with governments based on its own goals, rather than in internationally or regional set ones. May be the success or failure of the OLPC consortium will shed some light on the potential success that a Grand Challenge, in Press’s spirit, may have achieved.

Koert’s sequence of articles, started in 2000 and culminating in a very illuminating paper about digital or e–media and development, (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_2/koert/) are rather the opposite to Press’ approach: the focus here is content creation, specially in direct relation with the needs of rural communities in developing countries. The combination of multiple types of e–media, or new media, is designed to service multiple information traffic patterns, something that is sometimes forgotten when the developing nations are discussed, since rural and semi–rural communities tend to work and live to different rhythms, in comparison with urban societies, even in developing nations. This specific article, together with the first two of the same author, are some of the most interesting development–related writings published in First Monday, albeit from a very specific perspective, that of rural development, which is of very diverse relevance in different countries and regions.

1.3. Issues of development: Openness

Open content and open source software are parts of the same movement, that may be called Openness, a world–wide attempt to provide a new model for creating, disseminating and using information. There is no doubt that such a goal is multifaceted and complicated, but two articles published in First Monday are excelent examples of the potential for Openness as a tool for development, as well of the need to create specific frameworks for the Third World and areas like Africa, to take the best possible advantage of Openness.

Derek Keats article (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_2/keats/) explores the potential of Collaborative Development of Open Content, as part of an strategy of development for African universities. The approach is derived from Open Source software projects, and proposes a set of tools to establish framework of collaboration, and considers cost issues. There is actually very little in this article to suggest that the models discussed are only pertinent to African universities, and since the article itself does not deal with actual projects, it can be stated that this model may be discussed and considered for any set of institutions dealing with the need to change the terms of exchange of content in general and academic materials in particular.

Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_12/ghosh/) opts for a “harder” approach, with a very precise analysis of the economics of free software, not only regarding development but also its usage, thus disregarding many of the objections raised towards FLOSS activitists in the Third World. It is quite a compelling article, and at the same time, one wonders about its real impact on the countries it is purporting to speak for; that is one of the problems coming from addressing the Third World issues: exactly who is listening? This is a question to be discussed further.

Finally, Daniel Poulin’s article on open access to law in developing countries (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_12/poulin/) promotes an specific issue in the openness debates. Although there are no copyright issues with law and legislation anywhere, the accessibility of such materials can be extremely critical, since the cost of collecting and keeping collections of legislation, jurisprudence and complementary materials like concordances, comparatives studies and historical laws, is very significant. Indeed, digital media offer a great opportunity to change all this. Poulin’s approach, bringing both social, law and technological considerations as well as mentioning examples from both the first and the third world, is very useful as an introduction and a “sensibilization” piece, potentially making a large number of people involved in these matters aware of what can be done and, most importantly, of what is at stake in this area.

1.4. Issues of development: Higher education

Since many of both authors and readers of First Monday come from academia, it is natural for the issues of developing countries’ higher education institutions to be discussed. There are many articles relevant to this particular subject, but there are three that stand out.

K.O. Jagboro (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_2/jagboro/) studies the usage of the Internet in an specific instance of Nigerian university, approaching the subject with the whole arsenal of social science research. It is fine example of the usefulness of this kind of research in countries where conditions for academic research are not necessarily the best.

Ramzi Nasser and Kamal Abouchedid’s article (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_9/nasser/) approaches the problems faced by academic publishing in the Arab world, promoting the alternative possibilities that the Internet brings to this activity. As they do it, they are also shedding light on the particulars of the Arab academic community, making this article particularly illuminating.

Finally, Derek Keats, Maria Beebe and Gunnar Kullenberg (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_10/keats/) analyze the potential for university education in Africa to develop through partnerships based on the usage of information technology, presenting two specific examples. Notwithstanding the success of the partnerships presented, the issue of collaboration with institutions of the developed world is a very important and at the same time, controversial one, in many developing nations. This is an article that brings a positive look at the subject, and having been written in 2003 it is also relative current.

2. Political consequences: Liberties and technology in developing nations

Assumed as a given in Western countries, not only the exercise of freedom but sometimes the acknowledgment of freedom as a fundamental right may be a disputed point, up to the point of costing lives. Dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, and an state repressive apparatus designed to impinge, rather than actually prevent, the exercise of freedom, are unfortunately, quite common all around the developing world. Much has changed, and the late 1990s and early 2000s were times of change, when the march of freedom appeared to be unstoppable.

Things have changed, in many different ways, but this has not removed the promotion of freedoms, in their many potential senses, from the frontlines of the digital era. The freedom debate is paramount, especially if the technology is equated with a greater degree of liberty to communicate, to create and finally to exchange, not only ideas but also goods and services. Different approaches to a question that has become even more critical as the years have passed. Certainly, this is not only about freedom of the press, but also about activisms, in its many forms, and also about bringing the past to the public, as a way to allow for history not to be forgotten. The following six articles are good examples of the possibilities and of the shortcomings of the Internet to allow for a better polity in the Third World.

A good starting point is how the authoritarian regimes deal with the supposed inevitable freedoms of the Internet: Kalathil and Boas’s article (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_8/kalathil/) covers China and Cuba, both repressive regimes but quite different in their approaches to economic development and what could be considered citizens’ influence in policy definition. While Cuba is an standard authoritarian regime, the recent economic expansion in China has created a significant number of public actors that, thanks to economic power, are able to influence public policy, legally or in a corrupt way, thus transforming the original authorianism. Certainly, the status of China as a developing nation, or a as market economy, may be debated; also, the article was published in 2001, with a series of developments ocurring since then. But the main questions raised are still relevant, as well as serving as a demonstration of a line of research still useful for both countries and for many other still under some form of authoritarian governance.

Following such line, Jeroen de Kloet’s review (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_9/kloet/) of the usage of the Internet to legitimise governments such as China or Indonesia serves as a counterpoint to the enthusiasm that receives oppositional political activism, both local and globalized. The demand for further empirical research in similar countries is also still quite relevant, since there is a vacuum of information about the way that many nations that recently has experienced political turmoil have had digital media as part of the process.

The specificity of censorship, specially in countries that are formally democratic but that live through a conflicting relationship between different political actors, is the focus of Altintas, Aydin and Akman’s article on Turkey and censorship (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_6/altinta/). Again, the article’s age demands the caveat that things have changed since it was written; also, there may be some debate about the pertinence of considering Turkey a part of the Third World. But even assuming that Turkey is somehow in between the First and Third ones, or returning to the adequacy of using such a feeble demarcator as Third World, it is safe to state that Turkey is a country in political flux, with forces pulling in different directions for different desired outcomes. The article in question, written by Turkish academicians brings a series of questions into the forefront of the discussion about exactly how to deal with the freedoms that the Internet carries with it.

Two articles dealing with political activism in the Middle East are considered here, too: Sean McLaughlin’s review of political action and non–state actors (http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_11/mclaughlin/), together with the more specific approach of Michael Dartnell’s analysis of a prayer by a Muslim Sheikh in 2001 (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue10_7/dartnell/), are attempts to discuss the importance that digital networks and technologies are gaining in this, very significant, political arena. Obviously there are plenty more such discussion all around the Internet and in the academic and research output of specialists everywhere; but these two are good examples, and potentially good starting points for anyone interested in knowing one of the most important political debates of our time.

3. Cultural impacts

Back in the heady days of forecasting an “information society”, one of the voices that raised concerns on the cultural impacts of increasingly global cultural industries was Jean–François Lyotard, in a still interesting report called “the postmodern condition”. Among a series of pertinent observations, the French philosopher tried to call our collective attention on the risks that the concentration of information in the hands of global conglomerates would necessarily bring to almost any society, especially in a time when the end of the “big stories” prevents us to find sense in the world. We are more vulnerable to the influence of big media thanks to the weaknesses of our de–centered, individualized culture.

This line of thought has been present all along during the years since the Internet brought to the world’s attention the riches and the pitfalls of having so much on our hands. Some of the conflicts this abundance has produced are related to the recurring issues of intellectual property, but the way that Third World societies would deal with abundance and the potential harming of local culture are foremost in the minds of many. It may be read as a variant of Lyotards admonishment, since in this case we are faced with a conflict between the traditional cultural structures of a country and the overwhelming onslaught of “cool” media.

That is why Soraj Hongladaromd’s article on the Internet and Thai culture (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_8/hongladarom/) is so interesting, and so unique. The only piece on First Monday raising these issues from the actual countries allegedly affected, it is a critical but not necessarily standard approach, using the case of Thai culture’s resilience to the assorted advances brought by technology–enabled global cultural industries as proof of the ability of local culture to resist, all around the world, such situation. While there are many authors that may disagree with this particular line of reasoning, it is a valuable input into a discussion still ranging in many of the countries that may or may not be affected by this situation.

Another outstanding analysis of cultural and political impacts comes from Martin Hall (http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_11/hall/), who discusses connectivity as a means for social mobility in Africa. It may be judged as somewhat naÏve in his consideration of the potential of connectivity for bringing social change, but it is anyway suggesting: is it possible that the availability and ever–falling costs of technology are creating opportunities not only for elites to consolidate and accrue even more power, but also for those emerging social agents that use technology everyday, as a means toward self–awareness and redefinition of identity. A veritable call for debate. even from 1998, not answered yet in First Monday or in many other places, indeed.

4. The Digital Divide, or how not to understand inequality

Too many contrasting narratives of analysis are circulating both in academia and in the variety of stakeholders. Some of the issues are common, like the “digital divide”, while others tend to be rather specific of the policy developments that Third World countries face.

Discussing the digital divide implies either accepting the term, and trying to establish the local and regional patterns of inequality, or debating the pertinence of such a term, and proposing alternatives. Some of the most interesting articles, from the developmental perspective, are attempts to propose new conceptual frameworks to analyze the obvious inequalities of access and of usage of Information technology. Ajit Pyati’s critique of the whole WSIS enterprise (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue10_5/pyati/), and as such of the not–very–critical assumption of the existing “digital divide”, serves as a prime example of this search, not necessarily because it proposes a new terminology, but due to the full extent of the critique, leaving very little reason for continuing any use of “digital divide”, at least as it appears on the WSIS documents and by extension, in a very long list of official documents.

Brendan Luyt (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_8/luyt/) takes a different stance: a view that draws from political economy perspectives, looking for those benefiting from the “digital divide” bandwagon. Are there any guilty parties, trying to take advantage of a combination of naïve governments and well–meaning but disinformed international donors? Luyt says yes, and the following argument is not foreign to any intellectual coming from the progressive trenches, in the developed world, or otherwise. It is an attempt to re–frame an issue that is not a matter for access or skills or content, but as the author says, “as a part of a challenge to the global order itself”.

To a certain extent, there are interesting attempts to present alternatives to the framework that Pyati so well criticizes. Amelia Bryne Potter’s Zones of Silence (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_5/potter/) and Michael Gurstein’s Effective Use (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_12/gurstein/) are related in the explicit adversary relationship with “digital divide”, but are almost opposite in its respective intent: Potter presents an approach that tries a different narrative, based on the identification of voices, or their absence, from the digital datascape, the switch–off regions that are not part of the digital economy. As such, it is an interesting approach to identify denser, more nuanced differences than those provided by the “digital divide” paradigm. Gurstein, on the other hand, is more interested on how to better technology appropiation in community contexts, and thus on the potential of the tool if well used and thoroughly planned. Both are quite useful for anyone trying to approach the facts that are normally grouped under the term “digital divide” with a more powerful set of tools.

5. The travelogue

The first appearances of the Third World was, predictably enough, as a travelogue. Early articles on “The Internet in ...” were not only necessary, but quite interesting, as to bringing “existence” to countries and regions normally beyond the gaze of even the most informed of academics or activists. But this approach was clearly aging by the late Nineties, and was replaced by the main three issues that are, not only in relationship with the Third World, some of the recurring topics of First Monday.

Inevitably, some of this read now as quaint, fascinated word–pictures of an innocent time, when technology by itself was relevant; in some cases, even the most recent articles tend to lose its strength quite fast, thanks to external developments in the nations being described, or due to the appearance of a new series of social, technological or political actors. But the differences between those living and dealing with the realities of life in the developing world, and those “enlightened visitors”, are quite interesting even today.

A first group could be called “From outside, looking in”, and two articles stand out in this approach: Curry and Kenney’s about Mexico and the Internet (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_3/curry/), and Krebs’ discussion about the influence of the Internet in Burma/Myanmar (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_5/krebs/). The first one is a rather descriptive overview of the Mexican situation, without consideration towards neither an analytical framework for the specificity of Mexico, nor the critical literature about the “official” development of the Internet in Third World countries, which in the case of Mexico is quite significant. The resulting article turns to be too “from outside”, as it happens with many papers drawing from a similar set of sources and similar analytical perspectives. The insistence on using “digital divide”, for instance, shows the disconnection between the authors and many discussions, as shown previously in this review, about the inadequacy of the term.

Krebs’ approach is, by necessity, different. Burma is a closed country, not allowing foreigners to visit and certainly censoring as much information as it can for its own citizens. Perhaps in a situation like this any window left open, by technology or anything else, is indeed a beacon of hope. The risk associated with this approach is overestimating the positive impact and outcomes of such change, and that is potentially the most relevant criticism to be raised towards this article. Although acknowledging that social change in a country like Burma is going to be slow, the author finds proof about the power of the Internet to create new conditions for the international flow of news and information. The significance of such flow is not addressed, due to a combination of lack of solid data and a very short timespan to assess the outcomes. This kind of enthusiastic welcome from abroad may be contrasted with the reality on the ground; this has happened many times with oppressed nations of the Third World.

The second group of articles is, obviously enough, “From inside, reaching out”: authors bringing their very specific experiences to the world at large, trying to express their hopes and their frustrations about the potential of IT to change their living conditions, in many different meanings. Three articles stand out in this group: Gitta and Ikoja-Odongo’s review of cyber–cafés in Uganda (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_4/gitta/); Andreas Harsono’s article on Indonesia’s governmental control of news and the impact of the Internet (http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3/harsono/), which may be also considered as part of the discussions on censorship mentioned above; and, one of John Abdul Kargbo’s articles, specifically the one describing the Internet in Sierra Leone in 1997 (http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue2_2/kargbo/). In all of these cases, we are faced with very direct experiences presented by people that have lived through them, from fighting for freedom of the press to analysing the usage of the Internet with standard scientific tools. These are attempts to bridge the gap between the rest of the world and the local issues in a manner that is not only relevant but also engaging and thought–provoking. As such, they stand out as examples of the power of digital media to allow us all to see the world from a different perspective.

6. Odds and ends

A summation of interesting discussions that are, at least till now, not really well covered by the journal, at least in relation with the Third World. And why is that? Although a real answer is not possible, a supposition may be advanced: these are issues that are not well covered in the literature of the digital age.

Gender is a matter of concern everywhere in the world, although it does take a different set of issues in different nations and regions. The main question remains: how to promote equality among the members of a given population without any gender consideration? The diversity and specificity are indeed astounding, and it is possible that the issue has not been thorough addressed in the ICT4D debates, notwithstanding its presence on many courses and conferences. And in many cases, the gender issue does not fit well in the general narrative of the digital age. Ayisigi Sevdik and Varol Akman’s article on the Internet and the lives of Turkish women (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_3/sevdik/) is a good example of the “fitting” question: since the focus is usage, rather than “productive” appropiation or content production, the final goal is descriptive. It is not irrelevant to know about the patterns of women’s use of the Internet, but it does not bring significant light on the lives of the women nor on the specificity of the Internet in Turkey, moreover so when the focus is on urban women. Certainly it is better than not knowing anything at all, but it is a small first step, pending a lot more research and argumentation.

The migration issues are quite important for developing nations. As much as it is true that many countries are made of immigrants, or that others are defined by the emigrated communities and their impact on their hosts, it is also true that migration is changing and has a direct relationship with the way whole regions are articulating their economies with the industrial (and post–industrial) world. In the case of Latin America, emigration to the United States is mostly economic–based but the cultural impacts, both in the host countries as in the emitting ones, is significant. Also, there are social and familial links that do not disappear even when the people spend a large number of years in the host country, notwithstanding high levels of assimilation, in the form of permanent residency and naturalisation, by the migrant community.

It cannot be said that this is the same pattern that the relative recent Eastern European immigration to Europe, the middle Eastern migration to richer nations in Europe and the rest of the world, or the well–established Chinese and Indian migration to almost everywhere in the world. And there is also the political exiles, the diaspora, those who would want to live where they are now but cannot help it. Patterns of political diaspora have changed with the political transformations that have brought an expansion of democracy and an end to explicit deportations in many parts of the world. But it does exists.

Kilic Kanat’s study of the Uyghur diaspora (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue10_7/kanat/) stands out precisely because it covers a very specific, non–State national/ethnic actor and its use of the Internet to sustain an identity even when the physical aspects of such an identity are not available to the community, and only the yearning of the nation, and cultural manifestations that define an Uyghur identity are there to be used. This is enhanced by the political aspects of the diasporic community, looking for recognition and support against the perceived injustices committed towards them by the Chinese state. While the paper is mostly descriptive, it serves as an interesting introduction to the complexities of such communities and their relationship with digital media. This does not deny the fact that migration is an understudied topic, waiting to be approached by more scholars both in the receiving countries as well as in the originating ones.

7. Coda: For absent friends

Why are no Caribbean countries discussed in the volumes of First Monday? [How about the paper by Jennifer I. Papin–Ramcharan and Richard A. Dawe presented at the First Monday Conference on open access publishing in Trinidad and Tobago (see http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_6/papin/) or Fay Durrant’s paper on access to government information in a variety of Caribbean countries (see http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_7/durrant/) or John S. Quarterman on Haiti (see http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue2_6/quarterman/)] Why are not a single island of the Pacific deserving an article? Why the many difficulties faced by the Oceania nations that are not developed are not represented here?

Nobody expects perfect coverage, of all matters and all regions, but still it is important to indicate the absences too. This may draw our collective attention to the inexistence of communication links, not technical but social ones, with these regions; or it may be a signal of their weak presence in the international stage. In any case, there is a reality we have to face, directly related to the nature itself of the developing world: not all the Third World countries have found their voices, and the challenge in hand is to create and promote the spaces that will allow those voices to develop.

From this particular perspective, the challenge is clear. To continue being a wonderful place for dialog to grow is the goal of First Monday; to bring more voices, more subjects and more regions into this dialog, the objective for the next 10 years.

Lima, February 2007. End of article


About the author

Eduardo Villanueva Mansilla is Associate Professor in the Department of Communications, at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (http://www.pucp.edu.pe/).
Web: http://macareo.pucp.edu.pe/evillan/
E–mail: evillan [at] pucp [dot] edu [dot] pe.


Editorial history

Paper received 17 February 2007; accepted 20 February 2007.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2007, First Monday

Copyright ©2007, Eduardo Villanueva Mansilla

Introduction — A Web site with a view: The Third World on First Monday by Eduardo Villanueva Mansilla
First Monday, special issue number 8 (March 2007),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/special12_3/intro/index.html

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