Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Stephen Graham—Bridging Urban Digital Divides? Urban Polarisation and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

This article extends Grahams investigations into the relations between ICTs and an intensifying, uneven global urbanization. Similar to his previous writings, Graham argues against naïve assumptions that the Internet means the disintegration of the real into cyberspace, the eminent democratization of information, or the dissolution of the city.

The first part of the paper explores the role ICTs play in an increasing polarization within cities between have’s with access to many infrastructure services (including ICTs) and have-not’s. These new “extremes of social and geographical unevenness” are considered within a broad context of social, political, economic, and cultural interconnections. Increased concentrations of wealth and power centered in key urban cities integrate well with a highly-privileged information economy.

The second part attempts to offer hope to this gloomy pronouncement. Though admittedly “weak, underfunded and fragmented,” grass-roots approaches to expand access, gain local control over content, and re-appropriate technology offer possible solutions. In the end, however, Graham holds deep ambivalence toward the potential for more equitable and democratic turns within the rapid advancement of ICTs.

Discussion questions:

While Graham appears to eschew technological determinism, in that the meaning of an ICT is always articulated within a particular context, ICTs at least are seen as facilitating the extension of power and the powerful, if not the source of extreme unevenness. What are the causal relations being asserted (either implicitly or explicitly) within this analysis? If ICTs do not play a causal role and are merely emerging alongside all other social/cultural/economic trends, then what’s the value of focusing on them?

If ICTs are implicated in the growth of a metropolitan, globally-connected elite economy, are they then not as equally implicated within the crises (and potential collapse) inherent within that economy? How do current events bolster or undermine Graham’s critique of ICTs and global urbanism?

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