Publications

Taming the Amazon: the domestication of online shopping in Bangalore, India

Marketplaces are rich sites for studying existing practices surrounding technology adoption, as well as for understanding how the entry of new technologies impact a diversity of social-economic groups. With the high-profile entry of e-commerce companies into the Indian retail scene, this paper seeks to understand the ways in which online shopping integrates into the everyday practices of shoppers. Using semi-structured qualitative interviews with shoppers in marketplaces at Bangalore, India and through the lens of domestication theory, we examine how the relationship between online shopping and shoppers is constructed. Beyond individual agency, this paper describes how institutional, infrastructural, and cultural forces shape the use and non-use of online marketplaces. By specifically studying non-use, we improve our understanding of the shortcomings of existing sites where technologies are encountered and of the potential considerations for future introductions of new ICTs.

Rumors and Collective Sensemaking: Managing Ambiguity in an Informal Marketplace

Rumors are an enduring form of communication across sociocultural landscapes globally. Counter to their typical negative association, rumors play a nuanced role, helping people collectively deal with problems through constructing a representation of an uncertain situation. Drawing on unstructured interviews and participant observation from a technology goods marketplace in Bangalore, India, we study the circulation of rumors related to the government’s recent policy of demonetization and entry of online marketplaces and digital wallets, all of which disrupted existing market practices. These rumors emerge as attempts at sensemaking when a community is faced with ambiguity. Through highlighting the relationship of institutional trust with rumors, the paper argues that the study of rumors can help us identify the concerns of a community in the face of differential power relations. Further, rumors are a form of social bonding which help communities make sense of their place in society and shape existing practices.

Speaking their Mind: Populist Style and Antagonistic Messaging in the Tweets of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Nigel Farage, and Geert Wilders

The authors in this study examined the function and public reception of critical tweeting in online campaigns of four nationalist populist politicians during major national election campaigns. Using a mix of qualitative coding and case study inductive methods, we analyzed the tweets of Narendra Modi, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Geert Wilders before the 2014 Indian general elections, the 2016 UK Brexit referendum, the 2016 US presidential election, and the 2017 Dutch general election, respectively. Our data show that Trump is a consistent outlier in terms of using critical language on Twitter when compared to Wilders, Farage, and Modi, but that all four leaders show significant investment in various forms of antagonistic messaging including personal insults, sarcasm, and labeling, and that these are rewarded online by higher retweet rates. Building on the work of Murray Edelman and his notion of a political spectacle, we examined Twitter as a performative space for critical rhetoric within the frame of nationalist politics. We found that cultural and political differences among the four settings also impact how each politician employs these tactics. Our work proposes that studies of social media spaces need to bring normative questions into traditional notions of collaboration. As we show here, political actors may benefit from in-group coalescence around antagonistic messaging, which while serving as a call to arms for online collaboration for those ideologically aligned, may on a societal level lead to greater polarization.

Political Tweets and Mainstream News Impact in India: A Mixed Methods Investigation into Political Outreach

Citizens’ perception of politicians and political issues is increasingly influenced by social media. However, little is known about the potential of second order effects of social media in parts of the world where the majority of voting citizens are not online. In this paper, we examine whether a politician can move to communicating through social media as their primary means of outreach, and still present their message to the mainstream population through traditional media. By studying of the use of Twitter by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi between 2009 and 2015, the second-most followed elected official in the world, we present evidence of the impact of social media on print news. We use computational text mining techniques to automatically identify print news reports that use Modi’s tweets as a source, alongside manual qualitative coding of tweets to analyze the role of tweet themes in print news coverage. We conclude that while Modi’s social media messaging does get coverage in the print news, it is his more “newsworthy” tweets, such as references to celebrities, other politicians, or major events such as holidays that have a greater likelihood of coverage.

Digital Payment and Its Discontents: Street Shops and the Indian Government's Push for Cashless Transactions

In November 2016, the Government of India banned the vast majority of the nation’s banknotes in a move referred to as ‘demonetization’, with the stated goals of fighting corruption, terrorism, and eventually expanding digital transactions. In this study of 200 shop-keepers in Mumbai and Bengaluru, we found that cash shortage increased digital payment adoption but that digital payments fell after new banknotes became available. Digital payment adoption depended on the nature and scope of transactions, type of product sold, as well as personal factors specific to business owners such as comfort and familiarity with other digital technologies and online transactions. Using theoretical work on market and information behavior, we examined environmental pushes for technology adoption against prevalent transactional practices, trust, and control. We propose that the move toward digital payments must be framed within a larger undertaking of technology-driven modernity that drives these initiatives, rather than just the efficiency or productivity gains digital payments present.

Market Practices and the Bazaar: Technology Consumption in ICT Markets in the Global South

Local informal markets or bazaars play a central role in embedding the adoption, consumption, and reproduction of digital technologies within the economic and cultural fabric of the Global South. This paper presents ethnographic accounts of informal ICT markets in two sites, one in India and the other in Bangladesh, and assesses how technology consumption unfolds within local practices. Building on social practice theory, this paper depicts the role of materiality, relationships, and situated knowledge in the functioning of a bazaar. We discuss how this knowledge expands our understanding of the evaluation of technology and technical expertise, and the persistence of these informal spaces despite the uptake of corporatized technology marketplaces. We argue that the bazaar represents a special kind of local voice that enriches the HCI scholarship in postcolonial computing.

Innuendo as Outreach: @narendramodi and the Use of Political Irony on Twitter

Our analysis of tweets from @narendramodi demonstrates how the Indian prime minister used political irony, enacted through sarcasm and wordplay, to refashion his political style and practice into a more broadly appealing populist ethic. We deconstruct confrontational Twitter messages laced with innuendo to explore the use of language as a means of political self-representation. Modi’s use of irony provides a form of political spectacle and demonstrably resonates on social media, as quantified by the high retweeting of his sarcastically worded messages. We identify three rhetorical strategies in these tweets: (1) appeals to the base through the use of popular idiom, (2) creation of a shared cognitive environment to allow followers in on inside jokes and a means of affiliating with the leader, and (3) the performance of righteousness in underlining the leader’s use of wit and restraint. We argue that the use of political irony in these tweets must be seen as part of a longer-term performative effort to recast Modi’s political image from a regional strongman into a sophisticated communicator.

Informality and Invisibility: Traditional Technologies as Tools for Collaboration in an Informal Market

This paper explores how actors in local markets in the Global South adapt traditional communication technologies to successfully collaborate in sustaining the markets and their business practices. Drawing on ethnographic observations at a local technology goods market in Bangalore, India, the study details the use of a landline telephone intercom system as the primary tool for business communication in the market. Through analyzing how the intercom system relates to informality and physical space, the paper argues that it bridges the formal with the informal, and helps facilitate informal business practices while also allowing them to remain hidden from the formal regulatory gaze of the state.

Agency in Assistive Technology Adoption: Visual Impairment and Smartphone Use in Bangalore

Studies on technology adoption typically assume that a user’s perception of usability and usefulness of technology are central to its adoption. Specifically, in the case of accessibility and assistive technology, research has traditionally focused on the artifact rather than the individual, arguing that individual technologies fail or succeed based on their usability and fit for their users. Using a mixed-methods field study of smartphone adoption by 81 people with visual impairments in Bangalore, India, we argue that these positions are dated in the case of accessibility where a non-homogeneous population must adapt to technologies built for sighted people. We found that many users switch to smartphones despite their awareness of significant usability challenges with smartphones. We propose a nuanced understanding of perceived usefulness and actual usage based on need-related social and economic functions, which is an important step toward rethinking technology adoption for people with disabilities.

Twitter and the rebranding of Narendra Modi

Through a qualitative study of the historical patterns of retweeting and favouriting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s messages, followbacks to other Twitter accounts and evolving themes of messages pre- and post-election, this essay examines trends in his political discourse that have corresponded to four distinct periods. Thoughtful construction of messages on Twitter has helped Modi build a powerful online brand, allowing him to transcend a problematic past and emerge as a techno-savvy global leader who speaks directly to his electorate.

Order in the Warez Scene: Explaining an Underground Virtual Community with the CPR Framework

The paper analyzes the warez scene, an illegal underground subculture on the Internet, which specializes in removing copy protection from software and releasing the cracked software for free. Despite the lack of economic incentives and the absence of external laws regulating it, the warez scene has been able to self-govern and self-organize for more than three decades. Through a directed content analysis of the subculture’s digital traces, the paper argues that the ludic competition within the warez scene is an institution of collective action, and can, therefore, be approached as a common-pool resource (CPR). Subsequently, the paper uses Ostrom’s framework of longenduring common-pool resource institutions to understand the warez scene’s longevity and ability to govern itself. Theoretical and design implications of these findings are then discussed.

In search of missing pieces: A re-examination of trends in ICTD research

ICTD benefits from being a broad multidisciplinary field that unites researchers from a wide range of domains attempting to understand the role of ICTs in the context of social, economic and political development. As a new field of study, however, ICTD continuously grapples with epistemological differences and varying (and often evolving) notions of what counts as development, and there still exists a significant gap in outlining where the current boundaries of this field lie. In this paper we present “Missing Pieces,” an ongoing research project with the primary aim of uncovering the constitution, development, growth and impact of ICTD. Through in-depth quantitative and qualitative analyses of the distribution of participation in and impact of ICTD research across places, people, institutions, organizations and funding agencies, this project will look beyond just trends, and instead focus on finding the missing pieces, i.e. what, or rather who is being left out.

An Accessibility Infrastructure for the Global South

We propose an “accessibility infrastructure” view to understanding accessibility in real-world settings for people with visual impairments in the Global South. We study six cities —Blantyre, Freetown, Kigali, Mumbai, San Jose, and Seoul — all major cities from signatory nations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Using mixed methods including a survey of 219 respondents and 59 in-depth interviews, we examine the gap between the policy promise of technological accessibility and existing social and economic infrastructure. We examine the idea of accessibility infrastructure and specifically focus on its social components through two factors — stigma related to disability, and the community around technology users — both of which emerge as important factors in enabling or excluding AT use. We propose that efforts around accessibility, particularly in the post-CRPD global awareness need to closely examine the reasons behind the gaps between the technological capabilities, and the real world possibilities for people with visual impairments where a social infrastructure provides a major barrier to meaningful accessibility.

Gender and accessibility in Rwanda and Malawi

We examine the role of mobile devices in access to social, economic, and architectural spaces and resources by people with vision impairments in two urban agglomerations in Rwanda and Malawi using a survey and open-ended interviews. We discuss ways in which the intersection of gender and disability distinguishes the ways men and women experience access in their respective societies.

Assistive technologies and autonomy in a cyborg world

This note discusses the use of cyborg theory to study assistive technology (AT) use by people with visual impairment (VI) in development contexts. We argue that the deep intimate interconnections that people form with their AT, while allowing them to become cyborgs, also become the means by which they can be regulated and controlled. This is a concern for ICTD, which strives to consider the instrumental outcomes of technology implementation as it is interwoven throughout people’s lives. Applying Lessig’s model of regulation to a cyborg body, we discuss the implications for protecting autonomy in AT use by people with visual impairment.