Association pour l’anthropologie du changement social et du développement
Association for the anthropology of social change and development

‘Democratizing Technology’ in Digital Transformation: Ideologies in circulation in Lomé’s makerspaces and start-ups

Auteur(s) : Santos Janine Patricia ;

New digital-knowledge economies have been gaining global traction both in the Global North and parts of the Global South, and with it the Maker Movement whose spaces are considered potential catalysts to the shift. The Maker Movement is broadly defined as “a revolutionary movement made evident by the proliferation of its physical spaces (makerspaces, hackerspaces and Fab Labs) where collaborative reflection, creation and innovation occur” (Fab Foundation 2018; Kohtala 2017; Kostakis, et. al. 2015; Hielscher & Smith 2014; Lindtner, Hertz & Dourish 2014). Rooted in the Euro-American ideologies of the ‘hacker ethic’, Do-it-Yourself (DIY), and the commons (open source), it promises to usher in the ‘democratization of technology’ and the ‘empowerment of citizens’ through digital inclusion and the free sharing of knowledge. Similarly, the phenomenon of the digital economy widespread among Sub-Saharan African countries echoes promises of technological democracy and financial inclusion—primarily through the use of mobile phones and mobile money—and has attracted various infrastructure investments and the influx of cheaper, often Chinese, mobile phones. Yet the digital economy and its infrastructures remain contested at present, as inclusion/exclusion remain political and as the appropriation of the Maker Movement in Africa remains contingent to its Euro-centric forms.

Nonetheless,vernacular manifestations of the Maker Movement’s activities such as hacking, recycling and repair have long been practiced by locals through ingenious ways of providing local solutions to daily struggles. These vernacular manifestations have paved way for a bottom-up ‘democratization of technology’ through the sharing of knowledge and know-hows in apprenticeship, and through organic ‘tech-entrepreneurial’ spaces such as quartier Dékon where most of Lomé’s repair, decoding and reselling of mobile phones occur. Framing the Maker Movement within the phenomenon of the digital-knowledge economy, this paper aims to nuance the concepts of ‘democratizing technology’ by following the mobile repairers, decoders and resellers of Dékon, together with the ‘makers’ of spaces such as Ecotec Lab and WoeLab[1], in order to provide for an ethnographic account of how they embody the changes and processes occurring in the shift towards a digital-knowledge economy. Additionally, this paper looks at how the politics governing knowledge circulation in the context of digital infrastructures and mobile phones are negotiated by the makers, hackers, repairers and decoders of Lomé; and subsequently sheds light on how knowledge-based transactions within the digital-knowledge economy contribute to changing the nature of knowledge itself.

[1]Being officially labelled as makerspaces and Fab Labs by their founders, these spaces in Lomé are positioned as more ‘formalized’ spaces of the Maker Movement, as compared to quartier Dékon where transactions involving digital technologies within the formal and informal sectors converge.

Mot-clé : democratizing technology, digital economy, knowledge economy, Lomé, et Maker Movement

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