I think now is a good time to explain a little more about my research in Uganda and my ethnographic approach to this process. In short, ethnography of (ICTs) can look in detail at the ways in which the technology is experienced in use.
Christine Hine explains, “At the most basic level, (ICTs) are used as a way of transmitting bits of information from one computer (or mobile) to another. The architecture of (ICTs) provides ways for addressing the information that is sent, so that it can be split up into packets, sent out across the network and recombined by the recipient. All kinds of information are in theory equal: bits are transmitted in the same way whether they represent text, audio, images or video. The meaning of the bits comes from the patterns which they make, from the software which is used to interpret them, and of course from the users who send and receive them.”
Ethnography of (ICTs) can look in detail at the ways in which the technology is experienced in use.
For my research I plan to spend 2.5 months here in Kampala. Its not a great deal of time, but I do hope it gives me enough space to appreciate some of developments taking place here on the ground. I will use this time to deconstruct the relationships, activities and understandings of the different actors here in the country. I will also spend considerable time updating my blogs with small observations. As described by Christine Hine, ‘the aim is to make explicit the taken-for-granted and often tacit ways in which people make sense of their lives.’
Needless to say, it is important I get close enough to the culture here that I can really understand how it works. At the same time, I need to keep a certain distance if I am going to be able to objectively report on it. In this way, ethnography is used to develop an enriched sense of the meanings of the technology and the cultures that enable it and are enabled by it.
Thomas Molony, in his case study Trading Places in Tanzania, describes ethnographic research as extensive ‘Hanging Out.’ I like this description. Spend time with people and learn from them. To observe and document impressions as they emerge and to explore their meaning in depth. The ethnographic research approach stems from the social sciences. Otherwise the sociology of science, technology and media.
It is suggested that we can usefully think of technologies and media as having interpretive flexibility: ideas of their sensible user are developed in context. Local contexts of interpretation and use therefore form the ethnographic field. Christine Hine
My research approach will consist of direct, first-hand observation of daily behavior. The research will focus on the ‘end user’ experience and will make use of the following research methodologies.
• Conversation with different levels of formality – This can involve small talk and long interviews. Also seek out local government officials, managers of multinationals and other groups that can give addditional insight into the macro economic developments.
• Detailed work with key consultants about particular areas of community life – From previous UvA related research, its clear that experts and local consultants hold a wealth of knowledge as they deal with these issues professionally and on a day to day basis.
• In-depth interviewing – Conduct in-depth interviews with local actors and stakeholders who can give an overview and broader insight into the behavior of individual user groups i.e. the owner of a large internet cafe, the manager of a local radio station, the local governor and so on.
• Discovery of local beliefs and perceptions – Via extensive interviewing (chit-chat, short and long) uncover some of the local beliefs and perceptions. This is fundamental to better understanding different views and approaches to technology.
• Problem-oriented research – Recognize local problems specific to the location and how users work to overcome these hurdles. I.e. flooding, electricity outages, elections or other anomalies that are unique to the local environment.
• Team research – Compare the field research to see where there are commonalities and where there are differences.
• Case Studies – Projects or activities that fall into the research category. These examples can be used to support observations.
Kampala – April 8th – Interview with Rashid
Today I had the opportunity to interview Rashid. He grew up in Kampala and is a student at the Makerere University. He is 27 years old and uses both a mobile phone and Internet.
Mobile Profile: Unlike other users I have met he has only one mobile phone, but does have three sim cards (MTN, Zain and Warid)! He subscribed with MTN in 2000 because it was the cheapest at that time. He took a second subscription with Zain in 2006. He took the second subscription mainly because he had a friend who could give him the same phone number he uses with MTN (only the first three digits change and depending on the network). He took his third subscription with Warid because a friend got him the number and the company, for a short period, was offering free calls in the evening. From about 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. The company doesn’t offer this service anymore and he doesn’t really use the sim card as a result. What really surprised me was to learn that he spends about 40% of his income on mobile phone credit. His other big cost is fuel. I asked what he spends on food, clothes and other things but he gets most of these things through his family.
Internet Profile: He uses the Internet once a week for about an hour. His family has a laptop (Dell) at home but the adapter is broken so they can’t use it. A new one is about 80 euro and this is too expensive to buy. Instead he makes use of his uncle’s wireless connection and laptop. He mentioned that this was also not so easy as he has to compete for Internet time with his three sisters (he has more siblings but they live elsewhere). He complained that his sisters use most of their time for social networking. He mentioned they use Facebook, Hi5 and e-mail. He explained that he only uses Facebook but can’t keep up with some of his friends. One friend in particular posts images several times a week. But more importantly, he uses his limited time to find articles for school and his research (he is currently working to finish his master’s thesis). He spends most of his time on Emerald Insight, a database for publications and research. He also uses e-mail to communicate with friends and professional contacts.