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Call for Papers: Mis/Trust and Technology

By May 13, 2024No Comments

Kinship, Gender, and Digital Economies in Kenya and Beyond

  • Workshop convenors: Dr Peter Gutwa Oino (Kisii University) and Dr Teodor Zidaru (LSE)
  • Workshop dates: July 31st and August 2nd 2024
  • Deadline for submitting expressions of interest: May 30th 2024
  • See below for further details on the aims of the workshop and associated logistics

Digital technologies are reshaping social and economic life. Their proliferation has brought issues of trust and mistrust in the public limelight. Big data analytics, biometric authentication, blockchain, e-commerce and social media platforms enable novel acts of trust and exchange or evaluations of reputation. Yet the trustworthiness of emerging technologies remains questionable. Diverse voices – ranging from scholars and policymakers to financiers, entrepreneurs, tech users and developers – have raised concerns around data privacy, fraud, and social processes of classification, control, and uneven accumulation. Accordingly, current debates revolve around questions such as: What kinds of trust and mistrust do digital technologies promote? How can we design trustworthy technologies? What does it even mean to trust a technology? Notably, African perspectives are under-represented in these global debates. We believe Africa-centred research can and should actively inform the development of global digital economies. We take inspiration from previous efforts to understand the use and design of digital technologies in Kenya with reference to the themes of kinship and gender, and we would like to extend these efforts in fresh directions.

Most research on digital technologies in Kenya has focused on financial technologies such as mobile money and digital microcredit systems, documenting how they enable and extract value from family relations while articulating forms of gendered experience. There is less attention to the broader range of technologies (e.g., Facebook, WhatsApp, MS Excel, accounting apps, agricultural and health apps) that mediate intimate family ties and gendered experience in economic life. We know even less about the inter-relationships between the use of different technologies and forms of mis/trust in overlapping and digitising intimate, domestic, and formal economies. Mapping this broader sociotechnical ecosystem and understanding how the uses of different technologies inter-relate is critically important if emerging technologies based on big data and machine-learning are to yield reliable insights and create economic value in a sustainable and equitable way.

A shared focus on kinship and gender can also illuminate the social organization of technological design and technical labour. How industry professionals interact and collaborate as they develop, run, and maintain technical systems remains mostly unknown. Dominant economic and social scientific theories of technological change partly explain this situation. In these frameworks, industry professionals and entrepreneurs feature as profit-driven automatons; ‘technologies’ feature as black-boxes which impact yet are separate from society, rather than as constructs emerging from specific social relations and cultural understandings. And yet ideological correlations between technical skills and conceptions of masculinity or femininity are widely held to explain gender inequalities in the global tech industry. Recent ethnographic work suggests that ‘traditional’ forms of exchange or social capital among kin feed into contemporary attempts to design trustworthy technical systems and enable trust between tech users. It is plausible that that industry professionals are driven not just by profit, but also by family values and obligations as well as ideas about what it means to be a particular kind of man or woman. Associated implications for technical labour, technological design, and tech-entrepreneurship have yet to be explored in full.

Overall, then, key questions we aim to explore in this workshop include:

  • 1) How do multiple digital technologies mediate family life and gendered experience? What are the inter-relationships between these technologies? What forms of trust and mistrust do they generate amongst their users? How, if at all, do they facilitate the mutual constitution of domestic, digital, and formal economies?
  • 2) What roles do kinship ideals and gender ideologies feature in technological design, tech-entrepreneurship, or technical labour? How have the trust and mistrust that typify intimate life inspired technological design and associated economic modelling or financial projections? To what extent and how do family values and gendered experience have a bearing on the ways software developers, data scientists, and tech entrepreneurs conduct their work?

Logistical details

This mostly but not exclusively in-person workshop is scheduled for July 31st and August 1st 2024 at Kisii University’s main campus. Panellists will be invited to pre-circulate article-length (8000 words max) draft papers and give 20-minute-long presentations based on these drafts. Papers and presentations should be based on empirical data (ideally but not necessarily ethnographic), collected during research conducted as part of academic or consultancy and industry work. These papers and presentations will form the basis of panel and plenary discussions, with a three-fold aim of (1) engaging and learning from a broader audience of industry practitioners and tech users; (2) working towards a collaborative edited volume for a peer-reviewed publication in an appropriate world-leading journal or book series; and (3) exploring possibilities for future research partnerships and grant proposals to UK/EU funding bodies.

To participate as a panellist, please email [email protected]  and  [email protected]  with an expression of interest which includes: 1) your paper title; 2) paper abstract – max 250 words, specifying what data the paper works with, the core argument, and its contribution to scholarship; 3) a max 250 words overview of your current and past research in academia or industry. Participants will be selected based on the quality of their expressions of interest. The deadline for submitting expressions of interest is May 30th 2024. There are (limited) funds available to cover accommodation, transport within Kenya, or childcare costs on an as needed basis. Priority will be given to PhD students and early-career postdoctoral scholars in fixed-term academic posts. We would welcome applications from women, as they are underrepresented in academic settings as well as the tech industry.

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