ICTs and Neoliberalism

In class this week, we discussed some of the development theories and frameworks that we use to think about ICT4D. One of these frameworks is neoliberalism, an economic ideology that emphasizes free markets and a minimal role for the state. In the context of development, neoliberalism says that macroeconomic growth is the most important goal. This framework has been heavily criticized both within the development world and in other academic fields for its imperialist approach and lack of attention to local conditions. In his article, “ICTs, the Knowledge Economy, and Neoliberalism,” Richard Hull from the Department of Human Sciences at Brunel University in the UK argues against dominant theories of ICT and the ‘knowledge society’ because he claims that these theories perpetuate neoliberalism. You can check out his article here.

Hull says that the common argument that ICTs have created a new era in which information and knowledge are central to politics, society, and the economy is actually in danger of perpetuating neoliberalism. He supports his claim by arguing that the idea of ‘knowledge’ as a measurable factor and a unit of analysis was invented by neoliberal theorists in the 1930s and later used to justify the search for new markets. Hull’s article is interesting because he claims that the concepts of the information and knowledge society that we now take for granted as givens are actually part of the neoliberal agenda. It seems to me that Hull would probably fall under the category of post-developmental thinkers because of his criticism of the concept of knowledge as a universal, measurable idea. Hull argues that there are different forms of knowledge, an idea also supported by post-developmentalism with its emphasis on indigenous forms of knowledge. Like other post-developmentalists, Hull offers a stinging criticism of neoliberalism, but without offering many suggestions for how development should be done. It is also interesting to see how ICTs and ICT4D fit into these frameworks about how we view development and how ICTs can be used effectively (or ineffectively) in achieving development goals. 

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