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Global Development Institute

Analysing Telecentres Using Postcolonial Theory

Savita Bailur

Abstract

This paper uses postcolonial theory to analyse the continuing implementation of one type of information-and-communication-technology-for-development (ICT4D) project: telecentres.  Postcolonial theory emerged out of the discipline of literature and provides useful theoretical elements of otherness, hegemony, mimicry, hybridity and voice.  Following a brief critical overview of these, the paper goes on to analyse telecentre examples through these concepts.

It finds that postcolonial theory is a means for re-conceptualizing the use of ICTs in development, including telecentres.  Through a postcolonial lens, telecentre projects can be seen as an imposition of the centre on the periphery; an imposition not merely of technology but also of priorities, identity, patterns of thought, and inter-relationships.  This can include the paradoxical top-down imposition of participation; and a determination that only the “right kind” of participation is permissible.

The theory, and its application, clearly have limitations.  But it also raises key questions of how telecentres will be used (the notion of hybridity), and asks Spivak’s question of whether the “subaltern” (or telecentre beneficiary) can ever truly speak about the benefits or lack of benefits of a telecentre; hence whether we can ever truly know the impacts of these ICTs-for-development initiatives.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What are the key concepts of postcolonial theory as described by this paper?  [Part A].
  2. What main messages emerge in applying postcolonial theory concepts to analysis of telecentres?  [Part B].
  3. What are the limitations of applying the theory to the concept of telecentres?  [Part C].

Development questions

  1. Could postcolonial theory be applied to other ICT for development initiatives and if so, how?
  2. Identify some examples (either from your own experience or from telecentre literature) to illustrate Bhabha's notion of hybridity and palimpsests applied to telecentres.
  3. What practical recommendations for ICT policy or for telecentre implementation might emerge from postcolonial theory?
  4. Will application of this academic theory tell us anything we could not find out without the use of theory?
  5. How would you design telecentre evaluation research that did "let the subaltern speak"?