[iDC] Digitality, education and social justice

Nishant Shah itsnishant at gmail.com
Sun Sep 4 11:43:15 UTC 2011

Dear All,

In the first 2 reflections around Digital Natives (mythical or otherwise), I
was trying to map (in significant short-hand) the kind of shifts that we
have been making in the “digital natives with a cause?” research inquiry
that the Centre for Internet and Society (Bangalore) and Hivos (The Hague)
initiated 3 years ago. As I mentioned, the knowledge consolidated from the
research is coming out in a book set titled *Digital AlterNatives with a
Cause?* That consists of 4 books, each book respectively concentrating on
questions of identity, methodology, practices and networks in relation to
Digital Natives. I greatly appreciate the interventions that have been made
on and off the list and hope that we will be able to continue these
conversations, both online and face2face when we meet at Mobility Shifts.

I take the opportunity of this last reflection to build towards the
interactive presentation I intend to bring with me to the summit. While I
retain my discomfort with the names – digital natives, digital outcasts,
digital activism etc. – I still find it fruitful to stay with a name, if
only to simultaneously implode and explode it, in quest for a more context
specific and embedded account of how digital technologies operate on the
ground. I shall hence, stay with the idea of the ‘Everyday Digital Native’
and that of the ‘Digital Outcast’ to talk about a particular set of
experiences in contemporary India.

Despite a strong conflict in approaches and intentions of understanding
Internet(s) and digital technologies, there is a consensus, even among the
often warring factions, that digital access and literacy are still located
in elite pockets of the country, marked by urbanity, geography, class and
infrastructure. There is also an implicit agreement that a large population
in the country – the Digital Have-nots – need to be relocated in the
technology paradigms. The State and the Market come in complex negotiations
to form public-private-partnerships that create this citizen/consumer (or,
to use Chua BengHuat’s formulation, the consuming citizen) that needs to be
reached through the new digital technological apparatus. Across different
stakeholders from academic research to development work, there has been
consensus that these Digital Have-Nots need to be integrated into the
technological mainstream and that Infrastructure – of access, education, and
literacy are the tropes by which this can be made possible.

The resistance in this ICT4D marked discourse is not whether or not we
should be using particular technologies and technology inflected ways of
thinking, but more about how we safeguard rights and security in these new
technology paradigms. Once this consensus has been reached the debates
continue in zealous terms using a language that is familiar- surveillance,
safety, privacy, etc. In this consensus is the implicit recognition that
there are technology mediated identities – digital haves and have-nots for
example – that need to be accounted for in everyday practices of technology.
In the production of these identities, we now need a vocabulary and
framework that shall account for the new social rights (like the right to
information, access to knowledge, etc.) and new ways of understanding the
axes of discrimination and exclusion.

It is here that I place the Digital Outcast – embodying the technological
‘resolution’ offered by the State (and State-like-Structures) to problems of
discrimination, inequity and injustice. The Digital Outcast, who has been
‘empowered’ by the digital technologies and ‘mainstreamed’ into the
globalisation flows of technology offers a way of thinking about what Social
Justice means in a country like India. What are the new articulation of
rights and how do we understand new social rights in relation to the
fundamental rights? What happens to traditional modes of discrimination
(caste, class, gender) and how do they get inflected by digital
technologies? What does technologised embodiment (not quite a cyborg, but
perhaps also almost one) do to the bodies that are also marked by other
technologies of governance? How does Affirmative action within education
systems in India, that has sought to answer these problems get reconstituted
in the digital age? The micro-study that we initiated with 9 colleges in
India, to work with undergraduate students who are recognisably the Digital
Have-Nots, and look at how they strategically define their relationships
with digital technologies and in the process, also the shifting ideas of
Social Justice.

I build on these questions at Mobility Shifts. I know I will not have
definitive answers that save the dolphins and the underprivileged, but I
hope that these conversations, especially when grounded in the context of
education, will open up new ways of imagining the beneficiary of
technology-mediated education and establish the digital native as more than
an imaginary that technologies need to cater to as the recipient of learning
and knowledge.

I hope that these are questions which might lead to a generative discussion
and a multilogue (Because dialogues can often become so boring) both on the
list as well as at the summit.



Nishant Shah
Director (Research), Centre for Internet and Society,( www.cis-india.org )
Asia Awards Fellow, 2008-09
# 00-91-9740074884
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