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Home > Books & Journals > Journal Abstracts Last Updated: 14:23 03/09/2007
Journal Abstracts #117: October 14, 2003

Information, Communication & Society

Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society: Volume 6, Number 1, 2003

Online ISSN: 1468-4462, Print ISSN: 1369-118X


Translating an Eletronic Panopticon
Educational technology and the re-articulation of lecturer-student relations in online learning (pp1-23)
By Simon Kitto (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Around the world universities are currently in the midst of an online learning revolution. Australia is no exception, with new online learning software packages being used throughout the country at various levels of implementation. This paper reports on research conducted at a regional campus in Australia, which is trialing an online educational software package. Using Foucault's writing on disciplinary techniques and the panopticon as a diagram of power in tandem with the translation approach outlined within Actor-Network Theory (ANT), this paper demonstrates how certain functions within an educational software package act interdependently as an electronic disciplinary technique that renders the student as an object, making them knowable to the lecturer and the university. This technologically-mediated objectification of the student enables lecturers to act upon the actions of the student at-a-distance, and thus carries the effects of disciplinary power to them in new ways. The subsequent analysis shows how the introduction of online technology into university education serves to produce multiple translations of disciplinary and counter-disciplinary practices between lecturers and students. The success or failure of the lecturer's attempts to translate the actions of the students through the educational technology was not necessarily related to any intentional resistance by the students. Instead, the production of multiple learning practices produced in association with the online technology served to exacerbate the ambivalent and ambiguous subject positions inhabited by the students. This affected the students' translation of the lecturer's course instructions, resulting in some students engaging in questionable pedagogical practices.
Keywords: Universities, panopticon, translation, technology, students, ambivalence

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
The politics of television exports (pp24-41)
By Des Freedman (Goldsmith's College, University of London, UK)
Globalization developments are presenting television programme-makers with the possibility of expanding programme sales on the international market. This article focuses on the various initiatives of the UK government to support an export-led strategy, and evaluates the consequences of such a strategy on domestic programming. Highlighting the current trend towards the sale of programme formats, the article further considers whether the increased circulation of television programmes around the world points to a model of interconnectedness and heterogeneity or whether it reinforces unequal patterns of media flows. Drawing on interviews with government advisers and regulators, the article concludes that the promotion of an export-led strategy is economically and culturally flawed and is linked to the UK government's strategy to liberalize trade in services rather than a commitment to increase cultural diversity.
Keywords: television exports, globalization, UK government, cultural imperialism, programme formats

Africa and ICT: A Chance for Breakthrough? (pp42-56)
By Dmitry Polikanov and Irina Abramova (Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences)
This article reviews the current situation of ICTs in Africa and assesses the degree of proliferation of new technologies around the continent. Particular attention is paid to exploring the problem of the digital divide and specifying the key factors that impede the spread of ICT progress on the continent. There are several realistic ways in which African nations may benefit from ICT, including immediate and tangible results in medicine, education and economic development. The authors set forth a number of recommendations on bridging the infrastructure and knowledge gap. They also evaluate the efficiency of regional initiatives and international assistance programmes to Africa for enhancing the ICT sector and study the phenomenon of cultural imperialism in this respect. In conclusion, the authors speculate on the future of ICT in Africa and on the continent's ability to bridge the development gap with the help of new technologies.
Keywords: Africa, ICT, Internet, digital divide, infrastructure

Opening the 'Black Box' of Software
The micro-foundations of informational technologies, practices and environments (pp57-81)
By Kyle Eischen (University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA)
The technical and production structures of informational development, the mechanisms that translate information into new products and power, remain opaque. Without defining these micro-foundational patterns, simple questions - what is information, how is it produced, is this production structure significantly unique - remain unanswered, limiting analysis of informational development generally, and evaluation of higher-level 'information' theories specifically. Opening the 'black box' of software outlines these production practices in one of the central industries of the coming decades, helping explain its social and economic impact and locating its evolution within broader global economic patterns.
Software is a unique informational practice that draws on socially structured domain-knowledge as its central resource. This clarifies the importance of information and design in an informational environment, as well as signalling the impact of digital architectures in structuring new patterns of social interaction. These informational patterns are embedded in software both technically and through the development process, resulting in a strong cohesion between production, product and industry structures. The expansion of software process and products throughout society raises the impact of these unique patterns in shaping future economic and social structures in multiple industries, locations and institutions.
Detailing the informational patterns in software opens a path to consider an ideal-typology of informational production. Such an ideal type helps define terms and hypotheses that capture both unique differences and general patterns in an informational environment, opening more rigorous analysis of the broader social transformations in the global environment. Failing to recognize these processes limits the space for social debate, policy and action around the establishment and evolution of new digital architectures at the locus of their development.
Keywords: software development, software industry, information technology, rationalization, domain-knowledge, informational production

Biometrics and Privacy
A note on the politics of theorizing technology (pp85-104)
By Irma van der Ploeg (Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Society's increased surveillance needs are accelerating the spread of biometric security solutions (new authentication and identification technologies based on individual physical characteristics). There are two opposing lines of argument regarding the question of whether biometrics are a threat to privacy or not. This paper analyses the two views on their tacit assumptions regarding the nature of biometric technology. It argues that the different assessments of biometric technology involve different conceptualizations and constructions of the technology in terms of its demarcation as a stabilized object.
On a second level, the analysis deals with the philosophical issue of technological determinism. The opposition between deterministic and voluntarist views of technology is shaped by an underlying opposition between reification of technology on the one hand, and a conception of technology as a multifactor contingent human practice on the other. In this paper deterministic and voluntarist constructions of technology are considered as rhetorical devices, and as discursive strategies. This allows me to show how distinctions between inherent features and contingent aspects of biometric technologies, as well as demarcations between human and non-human agency are made, that imply particular distributions of responsibility and negotiating space for human choices and values. Examples are presented showing how each construction of biometric technology serves its own purpose in the political process of shaping biometrics.
Keywords: biometrics, privacy, surveillance, philosophy of technology, discursive strategies, technological determinism, privacy enhancing technologies

Addressing the Negative Consequences of the Information Age
Lessons from Karl Polanyi and the industrial revolution (pp105-124)
By Kenneth S. Rogerson (Duke University)
One of the great dilemmas of the information age is the tension between two dynamics: (1) the tendency of information to be free-flowing and not to lose its value as it moves and (2) the tendency to want to control that flow of information in order to profit from its value. In 1944, Karl Polanyi identified similar contradictions in the industrial revolution, except the flowing material was capital instead of information. He spent a lifetime exposing what he felt to be the negative consequences of this increasingly free-flowing capital, the hallmark of a free market economy. He advocated for a welfare state in which government intervention is necessary to control these negative effects. Given issues of the information age such as the digital divide, the commoditization of information, and security and privacy, as well as the arguments of the proponents and critics of these issues, Polanyi's concepts can provide insight into the complexities of increasingly technical and information-based societies.
Keywords: double movement, embeddedness, Karl Polanyi, industrial revolution, information revolution, information society

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