Social Shaping of Technologies for Community Development: Redeployment of Information Communication Technologies among the Kelabit in Bario of the Kelabit Highlands

Social Shaping of Technologies for Community Development: Redeployment of Information Communication Technologies among the Kelabit in Bario of the Kelabit Highlands

Poline Bala (University Malaysia Sarawak, Malaysia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-735-5.ch013
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Abstract

Using electronic-Bario (e-Bario) project in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak in East Malaysia, this chapter explores how the introduction of information communication technologies (ICT) as developmental tools have been mediated and reconfigured by webs of social relations and the intricate interplay of social, political and cultural conditions specific to different social and technical settings. One crucial factor conditioning the effects of the project has been the Kelabit’s own desire for, and expectations of, “development” and “progress.” This is a quest which ties in closely with two fundamental Kelabit concepts: doo-ness and iyuk. As a result, the social and economic effects of ICT have unfolded through countless open-ended strategic and everyday decisions made by the Kelabit themselves, who actively consume, apply and make use of objects, ideas and services in the Highlands.
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‘The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village’. -- Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy in Daintith, John (ed.) Quotations, Bloomsbury (1996, p.256:1).

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Social Shaping And Consequences Of Ict

The social shaping of technology (SST) approach to technology-society relationships has emerged in the late 1980s as an important framework to explore whether technology can be seen as a main force that shapes society or whether society and social values shape the way in which technology affects our lives. With regards to information communication technologies, the approach builds on two main themes: the design and implementation of ICT artifacts and systems; and the implications of ICT for individuals, organizations and society. Within this broad remit the SST approach could not, and will not deny that technology has an effect on society but at the same time emphasizes organizational, cultural, economic and other factors influencing the process of technological change and innovation (Williams and Edge, 1996; Kling, 2000). In other words, deviating from a technological determinism standpoint, SST embraces the centrality of users, society and social values to shape the way in which information communication technologies (ICT), affect our lives, (Dutton, 2001; Rohracher, 2003; Fischer, 1992).

Taking the lead from the SST framework, this chapter explores the social and economic effects of electronic-Bario (e-Bario), an ICT-based community development project implemented in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak. This is in order to shed some light on the character and significance of ICT in different social and technical settings and at the same time to illuminate the processes of shaping the use and impacts of ICT in Bario. It takes into account the role of the Kelabit’s own desire for, and expectations of, “development” and “progress.” This is a quest which ties in closely with two fundamental Kelabit concepts: doo-ness and iyuk. As will be made clear later in the chapter, both notions signify movements and good-ness in terms of social status among the Kelabit. By highlighting their significance, this chapter argues that it is the local cultural logic of doo-ness and iyuk among the Kelabit which is central to the shaping of technology especially how meanings (symbolically) are “inscribed to technologies” (Rose, 2001, p.69), creating a desire for new technologies, and informing their development and appropriation by users in the Highlands. In short Kelabit notions of iyuk and doo-ness are central to functional and symbolic encoding of technologies in Bario and are crucial factors conditioning the effects of the project. This is evident by the ways in which the social and economic effects of e-Bario have unfolded through countless open-ended strategic and everyday decisions made by the Kelabit themselves, who actively consume, apply and make use of objects, ideas and services in the Highlands.

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