Reciprocal Technologies: Enabling the Reciprocal Exchange of Voice in Small-Scale Farming Communities through the Transformation of Information and Communications Technologies
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This dissertation claims that the reciprocal exchange of voice—an element for constructing community and strengthening political recognition—may be fostered in small-scale farming communities by (1) the appropriation and transformation of information and communications technologies, (2) artistic intervention, and (3) cross-community research. This study contributes to participatory research methodologies, particularly those that seek to tackle the diverse challenges faced by small-scale farmers from a broad, complex perspective.
The main issue identified in this dissertation is as follows: The hegemony of economic behaviors, which stands as a cornerstone of neoliberal capitalism, constitutes the latest stage of a historical process in which the voices of small-scale farmers seem to have been progressively and systematically silenced, their traditional practices largely invalidated, and their reciprocal forms of social, political, and economic organization marginalized.
The purpose of this study was to explore whether an open-ended, sociotechnical methodology could be designed and applied in small-scale farming communities with the aim of strengthening their reciprocal practices while amplifying the voices of their members. The author's research addressed the question of how the role of information and communications technologies can contribute to the creation of enabling environments in which subsistence farmers may exercise their own values and make their voices heard. Another goal was to study whether the reciprocal exchange of voice could relate to the construction and dissemination of a knowledge commons and improve the resilience of small-scale farmers in the context of complex and pressing challenges such as anthropogenic climate change. Consequently, the ERV (Enabling Reciprocal Voice) Methodology was developed and applied in small-scale farming communities in order to respond to the questions of this study. The ERV Methodology sought to redefine the modes of usage of information and communications technologies in order to help communities establish a shared communicational praxis and strengthen their reciprocal relations. The ERV Methodology stands in contrast with the technological determinism found in the purely solutionist, short-term initiatives that are generally implemented in small-scale farming communities. Instead of offering rapid solutions to isolated problems, the ERV Methodology sought to consolidate the social networks of farmers through online and offline interaction.
The case studies examined in this dissertation were carried out in two small-scale farming communities in Tanzania and Mexico. Following the ERV Methodology, mobile phones and the Internet were used by farmers in those communities as tools for the collaborative creation of a knowledge commons focused on local agriculture. It was found that the ERV Methodology, carried out as artistic intervention, may encourage technological appropriation, induce reciprocity, and amplify voice under certain sociotechnical conditions. These findings suggest that such a methodology might benefit farmers by becoming a significant aid to increase their resilience and their capacity to face complex challenges in the longer term. However, another conclusion was that the ERV Methodology should be applied carefully, with a strong awareness of the local context, and that greater efforts must be made in order to integrate other communities, such as local authorities and scientific researchers, into the reciprocal dynamics enabled by the methodology.
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