Cultural Identity and Capabilities

         In Alampays article, he discusses the application of the capabilities approach to ICT development.The capabilities approach is a theoretical framework to development that claims the freedom to achieve well being is dependent on one’s capabilities, meaning their real opportunities to to do what they value.  In an ICT context, this translates into the fact that access to ICTs alone is not enough in a developing country, but we must also take into account the ability of people to actually make use of the ICTs available. This is often a matter of their education, training, skills, and exposure to ICTs. However, one must also take into account the the cultural and experiential backgrounds of the people.

        Alampay argues that cultural identity and and heritage are factors just as important as, say access to internet or availability of cellular phones, in determining the uptake of ICTs. Several studies illustrate these differences based on just one factor: whether a culture leans to the collectivist or individualistic spectrum of humanity. In an Italian study, researches singled out the exceptional individualism and flexibility developed in the workforce that coincide with the individualism as factors determining the rate of ICT adoption. Compare this to Korea, where researchers believe the notoriously collectivist nature of the culture greatly affect ICT usage over uptake. For instance, computers are often familiar over individual possessions. And in young people, calls from parents are much more common than calls from peers in a form of “mobile affection.” In the West, these same technologies are often used as means to forge independence from parents. Within the context of the Capabilities approach, ICTs can reinforce cultural identity.

         The Western world tends to take a more ethnocentric world perspective, viewing developmental policies and implementation in terms of ourselves. It is possible that we could equalize the playing field when it comes to ICTs: providing equal quality and access across the globe. But we will never be able to bridge the digital divide if we implement these ICTs grounded on the mistaken beliefs that the responses will be homogeneous. ICT uptake depends on the cultural backgrounds and individual difference among the population, coupled with specific policies and programs that either encourage or discourage uptake. But as the research in Korea shows, ICT will be used in different ways in different countries. And this is something we must embrace as the beauty of diversity amongst the nations and peoples of the world.

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One response to “Cultural Identity and Capabilities

  • caroline

    I blogged with a similar outlook last week. I think this is a critical issue when it comes to ICT and the West’s attempt to ‘develop’ the rest of the world. While it makes it easier on us to take a uniform approach, it is far but realistic. Each country, let alone regions and cultures within one country, has a different set of socioeconomic factors that impact how ICT could be developed. Until we completely acknowledge this, and likely the greater amount of work and effort needed as a result, we will only have a half hearted battle.

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