Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Caf?s of Urban Ghana

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The urban youth frequenting the Internet cafés of Accra, Ghana, who are decidedly not members of their country's elite, use the Internet largely as a way to orchestrate encounters across distance and amass foreign ties—activities once limited to the wealthy, university-educated classes. The Internet, accessed on second-hand computers (castoffs from the United States and Europe), has become for these youths a means of enacting a more cosmopolitan self. In Invisible Users, Jenna Burrell offers a richly observed account of how these Internet enthusiasts have adopted, and adapted to their own priorities, a technological system that was not designed with them in mind. Burrell describes the material space of the urban Internet café and the virtual space of push and pull between young Ghanaians and the foreigners they encounter online; the region's famous 419 scam strategies and the rumors of "big gains" that fuel them; the influential role of churches and theories about how the supernatural operates through the network; and development rhetoric about digital technologies and the future viability of African Internet cafés in the region. Burrell, integrating concepts from science and technology studies and African studies with empirical findings from her own field work in Ghana, captures the interpretive flexibility of technology by users in the margins but also highlights how their invisibility puts limits on their full inclusion into a global network society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this well-written and compelling book, Burrell deftly supports her conviction that future scholarship must recognize the inconsistencies inherent in the digital experiences of those who live in the margins of our global society." -- Practical

The MIT Press

Practical Matters
In this well-written and compelling book, Burrell deftly supports her conviction that future scholarship must recognize the inconsistencies inherent in the digital experiences of those who live in the margins of our global society.
African Studies Review - Jo Ellen Fair
This book is a fine, Africa-based contribution to theory in technology studies as well as an empirical achievement that should be of strong interest to the cultural studies community in general. Those of us who work on Africa, youth, new communications technology, or Ghana will be far from its only readers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262017367
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2012
  • Series: Acting with Technology
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,015,248
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenna Burrell is Associate Professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

1 Introduction 1

Interpreting Technology in the Peripheries 6

Weak and Strong Materiality in Cultural Accounts 10

Reconceiving Users in Global Technology Studies 17

2 Youth and the Indeterminate Space of the Internet Café 29

Immobility in a Mobile Age 29

On Method and the Internet Cafe as a Space of Traveling Through 32

Youth in Urban Ghana 39

Peer Groups in the Internet Cafe 42

The Deterritorialization of the Internet Cafe 47

Conclusion 51

3 Ghanaians Online and the Innovation of 419Scams 55

Breakdowns and Disillusionment in Online Cross-Cultural Encounters 58

The 419 Email Scam and Its Variants 64

Disembodiment and Gender Swapping as a Scam Strategy 67

Manipulating Representations of Africa for the Foreign Gaze 73

Conclusion 78

4 Rumor and the Morality of the Internet 81

Rumors as Accounts 85

A Typology of Rumors about the Internet in Urban Ghana 88

Rumors and the Construction of a Moral Order 90

Orality in Contemporary Urban and Digital Domains 97

Conclusion 102

5 Practical Metaphysics and the Efficacy of the Internet 105

A Brief History of Religious Movements in Ghana 108

The Internet and Technology in Church Sermons and Testimonials 114

Networking Christians and Christendom as a Network 117

Can Spiritual Entities Traverse Electronic Links? 121

Conclusion 128

6 Linking the Internet to Development at a World Summit 133

Arriving at the WSIS Regional Conference 136

Why Hold a World Summit on the Information Society? 140

Ventriloquism 147

Alliance Building 151

Conclusion 154

7 The Import of Secondhand Computers and the Dilemma of Electronic Waste 159

Strategies of Transnational Family Businesses in the Secondhand Electronics Trade 164

Electronic Waste Dumping and Further Dimensions of Marginality in Ghana 173

Conclusion 181

8 Becoming Visible 183

The Rise of Sakawa 185

On the Neutrality of the Network 191

Materiality and Marginalization 198

Notes 201

References 213

Index 231

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