Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa

Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa

Nancy Odendaal (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch003
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Recent literature on African cities examines the way in which social networks function as critical livelihood arteries in the ongoing survival strategies of the poor. An understanding of livelihood strategies is not new, but these transactions cannot be defined in space or frozen in time. This terrain comprises a divergent range of intentions, communications and movements exchanged between a multiplicity of actors making sense of their life worlds; negotiating, scheming and bargaining. Urban life continues to be reinvented at the margins, despite prevailing exclusionary economic and social forces. The potential exists for harnessing these strategies for developmental aims—building on the social capital created despite the absence of, or in addition to, the usual resources available for survival. One of these resources is Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Clearly the “real-time” communication, information transfer and exchange functions facilitated by mobile phones, e-mail and the Internet create the potential for informed decision making around the use and distribution of scarce resources. However, this chapter begins with the premise that ICT can only be considered a meaningful development tool if it is appropriated as ongoing input into the day to day decision-making of the poor. It is at this scale—the local, the individual, the social—that the appropriation of digital technologies is examined. The social appropriation of technology is considered in tandem with the network strategies people employ to manage and access resources. A conceptual bridge between the theoretical foundations of actor-network theory and the more contemporary writings on the African city is constructed to posit a theoretical lens for understanding digital networks in South African cities. The chapter concludes with a number of methodological implications with regards to future research into ICT and social networks in developmental contexts.
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Designing Community Web Sites In Durban

Two areas within Durban were selected as cases. KwaMashu is a township on the outskirts of Durban whilst Wentworth / Lamont contains a number of residential areas on the edges of Durban’s primary industrial area, the Southern Basin that essentially forms an extension of the port. Both study areas could be considered marginal in terms of income and economic opportunities. Selected community groups worked with undergraduate Internet Studies students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in developing web sites for a network of craft producers, a group of female home-based care workers (health workers that primarily provide support to HIV/AIDS victims in their homes), a Primary Health Care network (collective of clinics and Health Care workers) and a network of schools engaged in a market gardening and tree planting project in KwaMashu. The second generation of sites was developed for a Soccer team and clinic in Lamont as well as a school voluntary association and school environmental pressure group in Wentworth. The project has evolved over two years but is not yet complete. The author has been a participant-observer throughout this process and has conducted focus groups with members of the web design teams. Maintenance training is currently planned for representatives from all groups and follow-up interviews are to be conducted.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Actants: A term used in Actor-Network Theory to describe human and non-human actors engaged in an ongoing network relationship.

Discourse: Arguments, opinions and statements that are represented as facts (‘truths’) supported by definitions, theories and contentions that are part of a particular discipline. This term was developed by the social theorist Michel Foucault and is often used to provide a deeper understanding of the power relations that often underpin representation of knowledge and the imposition thereof.

Digital Communities: Communities of interest or place that rely on digital technologies such as mobile phones, the Internet and e-mail to communicate, network and disseminate information.

Associational Life: Term that describes the conditions that define a context where individuals rely on social networks and kinship relationships to survive and access resources. The term has become popular recently in urban studies, particularly with regards to African cities.

Social Capital: Assets used by individuals in the absence of financial and monetary capital to assist in accessing resources. Examples include familial relationships, social networks and clubs/societies.

Livelihoods: Used in Development Studies and Development Sociology, livelihoods refer to the survival strategies as well as the human, natural, social and financial capital people employ to function and survive.

Digital Networks: Social networks enabled through the use of digital technologies such as mobile phones, the Internet and e-mail.

Townships: Predominantly residential areas on the outskirts of South African cities designed during the Apartheid era to accommodate ‘non-White’ residents. These areas were racially segregated and enabled through the notorious Group Areas Act (abolished in South African in the early 1990s), legislation intended to reinforce spatial segregation through the designation of racially exclusive areas.

Complete Chapter List

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List of Reviewers
Table of Contents
Anthony Townsend
Marcus Foth
Marcus Foth
Chapter 1
Amanda Williams, Erica Robles, Paul Dourish
This chapter critically examines the notion of “the city” within urban informatics. Arguing that there is an overarching tendency to construe the... Sample PDF
Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics
Chapter 2
Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi, Adam Greenfield
Once a city shaped by the boundary conditions of heavy industrialisation and cheap labour, within a few years Seoul has transformed itself to one of... Sample PDF
To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City
Chapter 3
Nancy Odendaal
Recent literature on African cities examines the way in which social networks function as critical livelihood arteries in the ongoing survival... Sample PDF
Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa
Chapter 4
Wayne Beyea
Community planning is facing many challenges around the world, such as the rapid growth of megacities as well as urban sprawl. The State of Michigan... Sample PDF
Place Making Through Participatory Planning
Chapter 5
Mike Ananny, Carol Strohecker
In this paper, we describe the design and installation of a new kind of public opinion forum—TexTales, a public, large-scale interactive projection... Sample PDF
TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics
Chapter 6
Jenny Preece
This chapter describes a small networked community in which residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C., USA supplement their... Sample PDF
An Event-Driven Community in Washington, DC: Forces That Influence Participation
Chapter 7
Fiorella De Cindio
After more than a decade of e-participation initiatives at the urban level, what remains obscure is the alchemy—i.e., the “arcane” combination of... Sample PDF
Moments and Modes for Triggering Civic Participation at the Urban Level
Chapter 8
Michael Veith
Societies face serious challenges when trying to integrate migrant communities. One-sided solutions do not pay tribute to the complexity of this... Sample PDF
Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections
Chapter 9
Victor M. Gonzalez, Kenneth L. Kraemer, Luis A. Castro
The practical use of information technology devices in domestic and residential contexts often results in radical changes from their envisioned... Sample PDF
Beyond Safety Concerns: On the Practical Applications of Urban Neighbourhood Video Cameras
Chapter 10
Colleen Morgan
This chapter explores how we may design located information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses... Sample PDF
The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric
Chapter 11
Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, Kim Sawchuk, Andrea Zeffiro
The Mobile Media Lab (MML) is a Canadian interdisciplinary research team exploring wireless communications, mobile technologies and locative media... Sample PDF
Voices from Beyond: Ephemeral Histories, Locative Media and the Volatile Interface
Chapter 12
Helen Klaebe
This chapter defines, explores and Illustrates research at the intersection of people, place and technology in cities. First, we theorise the notion... Sample PDF
Embedding an Ecology Notion in the Social Production of Urban Space
Chapter 13
Vassilis Kostakos, Eamonn O’Neill
In this paper, we describe a platform that enables us to systematically study online social networks alongside their real-world counterparts. Our... Sample PDF
Cityware: Urban Computing to Bridge Online and Real-World Social Networks
Chapter 14
Katharine S. Willis
In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by information which weaves itself silently into the very fabric of our existence. Much of the time we act... Sample PDF
Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space
Chapter 15
Viktor Bedö
This chapter contributes to the ongoing effort to understand the nature of locative urban information by proposing that locative urban information... Sample PDF
A Visual Approach to Locative Urban Information
Chapter 16
Tristan Thielmann
Car navigation systems, based on “augmented reality,” no longer direct the driver through traffic by simply using arrows, but represent the... Sample PDF
Navigation Becomes Travel Scouting: The Augmented Spaces of Car Navigation Systems
Chapter 17
Daisuke Tamada
A lot of street view services, which present views of urban landscapes, have recently appeared. The conventional method for making street views... Sample PDF
QyoroView: Creating a Large-Scale Street View as User-Generated Content
Chapter 18
Hideyuki Nakanishi, Toru Ishida, Satoshi Koizumi
Many research projects have studied various aspects of smart environments including smart rooms, home, and offices. Few projects, however, have... Sample PDF
Virtual Cities for Simulating Smart Urban Public Spaces
Chapter 19
Andrew Hudson-Smith
Digital cities are moving well beyond their original conceptions as entities representing the way computers and communications are hard wired into... Sample PDF
The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World
Chapter 20
Laura Forlano
This chapter introduces the role of community wireless networks (CWNs) in reconfiguring people, places and information in cities. CWNs are important... Sample PDF
Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities
Chapter 21
Katrina Jungnickel, Genevieve Bell
From WiFi (802.11b) with its fixed and mobile high-speed wireless broadband Internet connectivity to WiMAX (802.16e), the newest wireless protocol... Sample PDF
Home is Where the Hub Is? Wireless Infrastructures and the Nature of Domestic Culture in Australia
Chapter 22
Andres Sevtsuk
This chapter presents the iSPOTS project, which collects and maps data of WiFi usage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in... Sample PDF
Mapping the MIT Campus in Real Time Using WiFi
Chapter 23
John M. Carroll
We discuss the vision, plan, and status of a research project investigating community-oriented services and applications, comprising a wireless... Sample PDF
Supporting Community with Location-Sensitive Mobile Applications
Chapter 24
Christine Satchell
Early 21st century societies are evolving into a hybrid of real and synthetic worlds where everyday activities are mediated by technology. The... Sample PDF
From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice
Chapter 25
Jong-Sung Hwang
u-City is South Korea’s answer to urban community challenges leveraging ubiquitous computing technology to deliver state-of-the-art urban services.... Sample PDF
u-City: The Next Paradigm of Urban Development
Chapter 26
Dan Shang, Jean-François Doulet, Michael Keane
This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics in China: Exploring the Emergence of the Chinese City 2.0
Chapter 27
Francesco Calabrese
The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and handheld electronic devices in recent years allows for a new approach to... Sample PDF
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City
Chapter 28
Eric Paulos, RJ Honicky, Ben Hooker
In this chapter, we present an important new shift in mobile phone usage—from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement... Sample PDF
Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism
Chapter 29
Mark Shepard
What happens to urban space given a hypothetical future where all information loses its body, that is, when it is offloaded from the material... Sample PDF
Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City
Chapter 30
Roger J. Burrows
Is it still the case that one can symptomatically read the early work of the cyberpunk author William Gibson as a form of prefigurative urban theory... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics and Social Ontology
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