what's this ?
what's this ?
excerpts here
excerpts out
peer review
Click on a tag above to see relevant excerpts from this site.
Click on a tag above to see relevant excerpts from other articles in the mesh.
Search this article for any word:

A report on the CRASSH workshop "Subversion, Conversion, Development: Public Interests in Technologies," Cambridge, 24-26 April 2008.

From the workshop's abstract:

As part of the "New forms of knowledge for the 21st Century" research agenda at Cambridge University, the workshop will explore why designers and developers of new technologies should be interested in producing objects that users can modify, redeploy or redevelop. This exploration demands an examination of presuppositions that underpin the knowledge practices associated with the various productions of information communication technologies (ICT). A central question is that of diversity: diversity of use, of purpose, and of value(s). Does diversity matter, in the production and use of ICT, and if so, why?


Opening of workshop with a) an opening ceremony via videoconference by gkisedtanamoogk (Otter Clan Longhouse, Wamapanoag Federation Manitomp, Maine) and b) presentations by James Leach (Aberdeen University) and Marilyn Strathern (University of Cambridge).

In her speech, Marilyn Strathern addresses several issues und questions of technology in the social life of people. How does technology come to work in different ways? What are the challenges in the deployment of technology? Is interest (considered as) a (social) counterpart to technology? And she quotes Bruno Latour who states that objects cannot come into existence without social enterprise and action.


On the second day, K-Net information material was handed out to workshop organizers and participants at the workshop venue.

The day starts with an introduction by Robin Boast (Museum of Archeology and Anthropology) about the use and reuse of ethnographic objects. Within several projects ethnographic museums around the world have been starting to include the voices of indigenous peoples to identify and categorize artifacts. Thus, indigenous people get to know where the artifacts and objects are located, which have been taken away from them. On the other hand museums receive first hand and verified information about those objects (cf. Jim Enote presentation).

In the second presentation, Poline Bala of the University of Malaysia, who is also involved in the e-Bario Project (, explores the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for indigenous peoples in the Kelabit Highlands of Bormeo. In particular she is discussing the economic, social, and cultural potential of these new technologies in the context of rural areas. The e-Bario project, which aims to create access to and connectivity through ICTs, represents success in the indigenous deployment of ICTs. In addition, ICTs are used to form regional, national, and transnational networks and to create solidarity amongst indigenous and non-indigenous peoples around the world. The use of ICTs includes therefore the important aspects of political empowerment, engagement, and agency.

Jim Enote from the A:shiwi Map Art Project and representative of the Ashiwi Museum and Heritage Center ( introduces a joint project with the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology at Cambridge, which aims to find and describe objects of the Zuni people that are spread across the world. About 70 percent of these objects were wrongly described. Representing thus a false picture of the Zuni people and their culture. The overall aim of this endeavor in next generation museum studies is to bring the objects and artifacts back home to the land of the Zuni. Within this project of redefining Zuni objects and artifacts, Ramesh Srinvasan (UCLA) co-created a database project ("emerging database--emerging diversity") that allows for the semantic mapping of objects by indigenous people themselves. Using an ethnomethodological framework, the project creates new ways of knowledge production. Indigenous peoples are thus regaining authorship and ownership of their objects.

In his presentation David Turnbull (University of Melbourne) rethinks the nature of knowledge by posing interesting questions. How can ontologies meet in the "third space" of cyberspace? How can knowledge create new knowledge? He introduces a software project titled "story weaver" that enables the creation of stories by connecting and recontextualizing story elements and fragments. The software has been created according to the open access initiative and therefore allows the use and reuse of the technology for instance by indigenous peoples to digitize their traditional stories, mapping their land through stories, etc.

Another mapping initiative is presented by Jerome Lewis of the University College London. He co-developed a mapping system that allows for the easy creation of maps by non-literate people, such as hunter-gatherer tribes of the Congolese forests. An iconic interface on a handheld is used by those people to create maps of their hunting grounds without necessarily knowing how to read or write. On the other hand loggers use those maps to avoid the cutting of special trees like the mahogany. The indigenous people can this way monitor the logging activities in their areas and provide governmental and non-governmental organizations with relevant information. Thus, the mapping system contributes to the long-term monitoring of the logging activities of the region.

In her presentation, Joline Blais (University of Maine) tries to connect concepts of importance to indigenous peoples with new developments in technology. She argues that e.g. kinship should be brought back into technology for a further development of technologies such as web 2.0 (social web), web 3.0 or web 4.0, where everything will be connected with everything in an "internet of things". But before the creation of this technology, and thus constituting the basis of this technological development, there has been web 0.0, the web of life, "the internet of beings".

Matt Jones of the University of Swansea, introduces in his speech a story telling system for rural India ( With the help of communication as well as multimedia technologies people are able to create, collect, store, and annotate their stories in a database. Icons are used within this system to tag and categorize story elements. Thus, users in this rural setting are able to generate, access, and control content themselves. ICTs are deployed as community technologies, which imply the sharing and joint usage of these technologies. See also:

Juan Salazar (University of Western Sidney) discusses the potential of maps as communication tools for social change, in particular in an indigenous context. He uses Linda Tuvali Smith's concepts of decolonizing methodologies as theoretical and empirical framework to re-apply digital maps as media for cultural development. Having realized several projects in this area, Salazar reminds us that "new media" always need reference to "old media".

A similar approach has Michael Christie (Charles Darwin University) and Helen Verran (University of Melbourne) with their ontological database for Australian Aboriginal Peoples. Within their project they try to hold people and places together through technology by providing indigenous people with the possibility to collect, organize, and categorize traditional knowledge about specific places and areas of their land. Through a "bottom-up" approach of technology usage, the database should be controlled and maintained mainly by the indigenous people themselves.

Dawn Nafus of Intel Research illustrates in her talk the importance of the open source development and movement also for the commercial ICT industry. Within the process of developing open source applications and tools the consumer's agency becomes a crucial aspect, which needs to be understood and valued by the industry. Consumers therefore must be seen as active agents.

James Leach (University of Aberdeen) and Wendy Seltzer (Berkman Centre, Harvard University) introduce a legal template that has been developed to create and support cross- cultural partnerships in respect of usage and ownership of knowledge and technology. With the help of this document traditional indigenous knowledge should be protected and shared according to fair and just rules and regulations.

In her presentation Beth Kolko showcases two research projects on ICT usage in the two Asian countries of Cambodia and Uzbekistan. She reminds us that the regional, cultural, and social context is always very important to understand issues of technology usage and appliance. Interestingly, Kolko also finds similarities between hackers and their (socio- cultural) activities in developed countries and technology innovators in developing countries.

The next presentation of Hildegard Diemberger and Stephen Hugh-Jones (University of Cambridge) deals with problems book and text digitization projects create in Tibet. In this specific cultural context, books are not only objects. They are like human persons that you can "meet" somewhere or "invite" to your house. In particular religious books and texts are considered embodiments of Buddha. Nevertheless, the digitization of Tibetian texts is important to archive and disseminate knowledge about this culture. It also contributes to the aspired repatriation of texts and books, which are spread across museums all around the world.

Will Tuladhar-Douglas (University of Aberdeen) again takes us to Eastern Asia when he talks about the reading and copying practices of Buddhists texts in Tibet and Japan. Already in 8th century Japan, more than one million copies of a Buddhist text were circulating. Since the majority of people could not read this text, the reproduction and copying of it was the real religious act. Today new ICTs, such as digital praying wheels, are commonly used within the Buddhist community and with the appreciation of the Dalai Lama.

In his presentation, Govindan Parayil (University of Oslo) introduces a project that aims to improve access to ICTs in rural India. In particular women and youth are trained to use and maintain ICTs, such as PCs. Like other speakers before, her reminds us that the local context is of utmost importance in implementing projects and programs in the field that could be subsumed under the term of "community informatics".

Another Asian case study is presented by Merlyna Lim (Arizona State University) in her paper. She illustrates the history of the internet in Indonesia and how it developed over the last years. The internet in an authoritarian nation state, like Indonesia, can decisively contribute to the creation and maintenance of networks of NGOs on a regional, national, and transnational level. Thus, the internet as technology can also contribute to a political change.

The day's last contribution is Tim Ingold's (University of Aberdeen) reflection on the presentations and topics. He argues that despite all the new and wonderful technologies, it is crucial to bring human life back into the focus of research and discussion. In particular in the field of ICTs, human life is too often forgotten. After briefly discussing several essential distinctions, connecting static points vs. moving along like a river (flowing), community building vs. communication, information vs. communication, he concludes that the overall focus of research in the field of ICTs should be on how knowledge is being built. And he thankfully reminds us that there are much more important technologies of daily life than only ICTs: shoes, watch, pen, etc. Ingold also asks us to reflect upon the skills to deploy technologies and how they can result in a, what he calls, "homogenization of skills" (e.g. usage of a computer keyboard). Do new and innovative developments necessarily contradict slow and careful technological developments, which show respect for the past? Is it even possible to be subversive when using ICTs?

The day finally ends with a plenary discussion that highlights the potential of ICTs to support and create creative skills as well as active producers/makers and not only consumers.


In the first presentation of the day, Matt Ratto discusses the open object initiative by looking at the relationships objects develop between each other. Treating ICTs as "things in contexts", results in the "objectification of technology". By deploying a reductive approach, Ratto suggests to decontextualize the things/objects and to re-situate them in the daily socio-cultural life of people practicing them. More frequent and extended ethnographic research is necessary to support this epistemological approach.

Laura Watts introduces in her paper a project on ICT industries and their relation to landscapes and places. As case study, she took the Orkney Islands, which lie isolated and remote in the North of Scotland. Despite their isolation and decentralization, the Islands are spearheading Britain's ICT development and infrastructure: "the future came early to Orkney". The land and the people are nevertheless crucial factors in the development and deployment of ICTs, and this is of course not always without conflicts, as Watts explains.

Jennifer Baird (Virtual Museums of Canada) tells another interesting story about the active involvement of indigenous peoples in the work of museums and archives. Through social web applications, such as blogs and wikis, indigenous peoples are now able to question the authority of museums in respect of describing and defining objects and artifacts. Thus, authority can be shared between indigenous people and institutions that take care of material objects belonging to the indigenous people. The new technologies also allow for the easy inclusion of people outside of those institutions in creating exhibitions and events, e.g.

How cell phones are used, reused, and applied in Indonesia is discussed by Bart Barendregt of Leiden University. He clearly sees a connection between the social mobility of people and the mobility of communication. In the Indonesian case, the state intended to nationalize mobile phone technology to lift the country into "modernity". This "techno-nationalism" is of course political highly controversial, particularly in a multicultural and multiethnic country like Indonesia. Across Southeast Asia, people have started to "cannibalize" mobile technologies, which are traded in large parts at black markets, by putting parts of different products together, creating thus new and hybrid forms of technologies. Barendregt also reminds us to think about the non-use of such technologies. What happens to people that are not using mobile and digital technologies? Are those the "digital losers"?

In a multimedia presentation, Jim Enote introduces the Zuni Mapping Project ( that uses art to map cultural landscapes. For indigenous peoples it always has been a challenge to use the Roman alphabet for describing and defining places within their territories. With the help of these art maps, Zuni people are supported in connecting themselves to special places on their land.

In the following round of discussion, the phenomenon of "living objects" is discussed. Through digital technologies the relations between objects and people, which always exist, can now easily be identified, highlighted, and presented.

Giles Lane (Proboscis) presents a project that aims to create tacit knowledge about issues relevant to a neighborhood or community, such as air pollution. By involving people on the streets, a kind of public authority and agency is created. Within his projects Giles wants to deploy technologies to inspire and develop agency.

In his paper, Greger Peterson (Copenhagen Business School) examines the use of wireless technologies for subversive politics. The case study of the Chaos Computer Club in Berlin shows that non-hierachical social structures also demands non-hierachical technological infrastructures and solutions.

The workshop's last presentation is done by Jon Ippolito (University of Maine) who rethinks the relationship between software as an artistic and as a commercial product. For him control about technology is the crucial aspect. Who controls technology? Who defines and redefines technology? Who configures and reconfigures technological objects and tools? That's why community often resists or rejects technology and technological development.

After Daria Loi (Intel Research) comments on today's presentations and issues, the closing ceremony is being held by gkisedtanamoogk via videoconference.

The workshop brought up a couple of very interesting issues and case studies that were discussed in the stimulating environment of Cambridge and it's University. As Tim Ingold nicely demonstrated, information and communication technologies are not the only technologies relevant for humans today. I also would like to have seen more presentations from indigenous or marginalized people who deploy diverse kinds of technologies.

Like a good workshop intends, quite a couple of questions were raised for me that could tried to be answered in a follow-up event. How to integrate indigenous peoples in the design and development of digital technologies and applications? Where are the indigenous initiatives to develop and deploy ICTs (besides eBario, the Zuni Mapping Project, and Should indigenous knowledge be categorized, systematized, and archived according to "western" agendas and conditions? Do technologies, such as databases, fit the needs of indigenous peoples and their ways of knowledge production and diffusion? Do digital ICTs create new forms of dependencies? Should concepts developed and practiced in the "western" world be applied to developing countries trough new technologies?