P 55

Lifeworld and Technology

Panel abstract
Technology gains increasing relevance in most African countries. Agendas of the largest multi- and bilateral organizations promote the use of innovative technologies and emphasize the hopes and benefits a more (technologically) connected Africa could bring to the rest of the world. Even beyond development scenarios, the everydayness of many African citizens is strongly affected by technology. Be it in the form of concrete devices like a cell phone or more in form of complex networks or systems e.g. water, sanitation or electricity infrastructures – the everyday lifeworld of most Africans has been significantly shaped by the use of as well as exposure to modern technologies. In this panel, we will explore the inescapable intertwinement of ‘technicization’ and the ‘lifeworld’ – on the topic of which the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg points out that the two cannot readily be treated apart, and that ‘technicization is lifeworld’. The panel contributes to an on-going discussion that relates the technology/lifeworld complex to persisting questions of rationalization and standardization – as these are the legitimizations and effects of the infrastructures of modernity, deeply implicated in its institutions, in its administrations and bureaucracies, forecasting, and surveillance systems. The panel’s discussion will focus on questions like:

  • How can we study the relation between technology and lifeworld? What are the methodological implications/challenges?
  • What are the onto-epistemic insights/values of thinking technology as integral part the lifeworld?
  • How can these insights be related to already existing concepts like adaptation and translation?

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 2 - 4 pm
Venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 17

Richard Rottenburg (University of Halle-Wittenberg)
René Umlauf (University of Halle-Wittenberg)

Claudia Böhme (University of Trier)
Marlie van Rooyen (University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa)
Festus Boamah (University of Bayreuth)
Jonas van der Straeten (Technical University of Darmstadt)
Christiane Tristl and Marc Boeckler (University of Frankfurt)


Paper abstracts

Claudia Böhme
The Role of Mobile Phones and Social Media for the Lifeworlds of People Living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya

The global distribution and appropriation of new technologies like mobile phones, the Internet, and social media has had a significant impact on refugees’ lifeworlds. In the coverage of refugees and migration towards Europe in particular, it is clear that mobile phones and the internet are not only auxiliary tools during migration, but, through the viral dissemination of information and images, they function as omnipresent companions and bridge the distances for people on the move, acting as ‘migrant essentials’. In contrast to the time before the digital age, these ‘connected migrants’ are characterized by the fact that they carry their transnational social networks with them and through the virtual bonds create a social space of connected presence. Moreover, social media do offer new spaces through which refugees can act out an identity beyond the refugee label, imagine and create their own future. This holds especially true for people living at the margins in liminal or in-between spaces. In a recent study, the UNHCR has highlighted the importance of mobile phones and Internet for refugees and proposed to improve their connectedness. With the example of two woman living in the Kakuma refugee camp in North-Western Kenya, I want to examine how mobile phones and social media have changed their lifeworlds in the restricted space of the refugee camp and how they use these technologies to engage in transnational networking and communication. In doing so, I will take into account the role of mobile phones and social media for identity construction, future making, and the creation of alternative lifeworlds in the virtual space.

Marlie van Rooyen
Tracing Convergence in the Translation of Community Radio News in South Africa

The South African mediascape is characterized by a diverse topography with new platforms of mass communication emerging. A plurality of media role-players has appeared communicating beyond the mainstream traditional mass media. In spite thereof, radio remains essential in information dissemination as it is boosted by social network applications. The technological convergence between the mobile phone, radio, the Internet, and social media provides access to radio, bridging the urban-rural divide. As Jenkins states, convergence is a paradigm shift and not necessarily medium-specific. It is a ‘flow across multiple media channels, toward the increased interdependence of communications systems’. In this paper, I investigate the news translation process in community radio. Research questions to be addressed are the following: how and which forms of new media technologies are used in the news translation process in community radio?; what role does the digital divide play in the presence of convergence in the translation of community radio news?; and how are the same news stories translated, transformed or adapted across media platforms? Bruno Latour’s actor-network provides a framework to trace the role of the non-human (in the form of new media technologies); and the translation processes between the human and non-human. Data were collected from two community radio stations in the Free State province of South Africa. The data collection methods included a period of observation, informal discussions with radio news participants, and the collection of texts in various media formats.

Festus Boamah
Energy Justice, Social Practices, and Geographies of Decentralized Solar PV Electrification in Ghana and Kenya

The transition to decentralized Solar PV electrification in Africa is bundled with certain societal meanings and shaped by conditions in specific geographical locations. The emergence of a class of ‘energy elites’ needing regular electricity access to run electric gadgets for daily routines have inspired ‘self-organized energy practices’ via the installation of Solar Home Systems (SHS), particularly in urban areas of Ghana, to supplement inefficient centralized state-controlled electricity provision. Regular power supply interruptions, limited grid-based power extension to remote/sparsely-populated areas, unstable monthly electricity tariffs, etc., have prompted widespread installation of SHS in rural areas of Kenya (e.g. people living in homesteads) primarily to ‘self-govern’ power supply and demand as a response to consistent denial of efficient energy services by the state. Spatial variations in population distribution, socio-economic conditions, multiple dimensions of social justice, energy policies, and tacit knowledge of people shape the adaptation to decentralized solar PV technologies, but energy transition studies seldom employ research approaches to examine how and why the social practices of particular social groups become woven into, interlinked, and co-produced with adaptation processes. Using practice-oriented approaches and ethnographic research approach, I argue that the transition to decentralized solar PV electrification is an expression of societal quest for autonomy in the management of electricity provision and energy justice, driven partly by specific energy governance of the country. This situation is re-configuring social practices among different social groups and ways of relating to energy infrastructures in specific locations.

Jonas van der Straeten
Africanizing, Provincializing, or Discarding? Reconsidering Theories of System Evolution in Light of Current Research on Electricity in Africa

While infrastructure systems in Africa have received considerable scholarly attention in recent years, few of the empirical studies from the continent have fed into theoretical debate on the evolution of large technical systems. Drawing from historical studies in Europe and the US, many historians of technology still follow a progressive narrative of system evolution as a process of gradually incorporating natural and social environments into the system. When applied to Africa, this perspective often brings about stories of deficiency, ‘crises’ of infrastructures or their failure to gain ‘momentum’. Using empirical material from own studies of electrification processes in East Africa, this contribution critically revisits theories of large system evolution in terms of their explanatory power for the African context. It also revisits questions such as: is system building an act of enforcing ‘unity from diversity, centralization in the face of pluralism, and coherence from chaos’, as Thomas Hughes has put forward? Does interconnection on different scales increase system stability, as is argued for the industrial world? How to integrate in the analysis different factors that lay outside the boundaries of the system as it is imagined in classical approaches? Is the metaphor of the network, for example, better suited to grasp the informal local networks as well as the global interconnections and interdependencies that have arguably been a key determinant for the pace and scope for electrification in Africa? By providing empirical insights and tentative ideas on these questions, this contribution hopes to stimulate a discussion between the communities of African scholars and historians of science and technology about the opportunities and limitations of large infrastructure systems theories for Africa.

Christiane Tristl and Marc Boeckler
Confronting Lifeworlds. Automatic Water Dispensers and Their Foundational Meaning

What do Automatic Water Dispensers (ATW) do? Automatic Water Dispensers are advertised as devices that ensure reliable and sustainable water supply in the ‘developing world’. They promise efficiency and transparency by tracing every transaction and by precise water dispensing with minimum wastage. By doing so, they improve the ability of water service providers to collect and manage revenues. Fetching water is turned into an exciting techno-social event. By placing the prepaid smart cards on the unit and pressing a button on the simple and intuitive user-interface for water to flow, the customer is supposed to gain a positive and reliable water tapping experience. ATWs are currently being deployed by NGOs and water utilities to replace the manual system of water kiosk attendants throughout the global South. Building on fieldwork in Kenya and following Hans Blumenberg we want to lift the automatic water dispensers for a brief methodological moment out of their self-evident naturalness. By contrasting the automatic-dispenser-arrangement with the former kiosk-attendant- arrangement in different settings in rural Kenya, we attempt to excavate the foundational meaning of the technicization of water supply. The manual process of fetching water used to be flexible and pliable, always open to negotiation and questioning. Place specific ways of measuring water were just as common as contextually different ways of paying water bills. The automatic water dispenser however implements a standardized market rationality that is morally capable of denying water to a person dying of thirst. The technicization of life world is dominated by the rule of impersonal rationality, calculability, and accountability.