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Idols of the ICT4D theatre: Searches

Searches were done using the internal search engines of academic journals in development and in ICT4D. Google Scholar searches were also conducted.

The approach was two-pronged, and might be regarded to fit into the thinking behind grounded theory. Searchers were performed, and certain semantic superclasses emerged, while these in turn informed search keywords.

This project was not an intense quantitative analysis (in the sense of statistical analysis), but an interpretivist glance of how authors feature in the ICT4D domain. The "glance" was based on an informal semantic taxonomic hierarchy, based on semantic network theory (Quillian 1967, Sowa 2014).

Searches were done in July 2014 using among many others, search keywords such as ICT4D and the surnames of authors (see summary at Results by journal). In some cases results returned included other individuals with the same surnames. For example, not all Chandlers returned were Daniel Chandler, and had to be eliminated.

The conclusion reached was that in the domain of ICT4D, authors on the theme of philosophy of technology do not feature as much as authors addressing the socio-political or economic positions of ICT. There is thus a huge gap in ICT4D narratives as they neglect the technological aspect.

There are abundant papers on technical IT, such as about, for example, telecentres, or mobile phones, or the fad terms (e-something, m-something). These papers, however, are typically not particularly interested in theory, but in deployment of technologies.

Table 1 summarises the most cited authors in ICT4D journals. The top authors in development journals differ slightly, with Sen, Max Weber and Marx the most cited.

Rank Authors cited in ICT4D journals Semantic superclass
1 Manuel Castells socio-economics
2 Pierre Bourdieu socio-economics
3 Arturo Escobar socio-economics
4 Michel Foucault socio-economics
5 Paolo Freire socio-politics
6 Anthony Giddens socio-economics
7 Antonio Gramsci politics
8 Jürgen Habermas socio-economics
9 Martin Heidegger philosophy
10 Bruno Latour socio-technology
11 Karl Marx socio-economics
12 Amartya Sen socio-economics
13 Max Weber socio-economics
Table 1. Most cited theoreticians in ICT4D journals in ranked order, and their relevance to ICT4D expressed by a semantic superclass.

In Table 2 below, authors from different disciplines who are most cited in development and ICT4D journals are listed by their main philosophical contribution. It is evident that the themes philosophy of technology, socio-technology and communication theory do not receive much attention from ICT4D authors, despite this abbreviation containing the words technology and communication. Thus not so much I, C or T (except T for technical applications).

A Google Scholar search on the keyword ICT4D returned 5500 results. Table 2 summarizes the results of a search on this keyword and surnames. A rough distinction is made between ICT4D proper authors, those with a more sociological or political approach, and those in the field of technology philosophy. The grouping on the left is where the weight of thinking in ICT4D presently lies.

ICT4D AND Results ICT4D AND Results
ICT4D "proper" authors Philosophy of technology
Avgerou 2280 Mumford (Lewis) 41
Heeks 1310 Chandler (Daniel)* 34
Unwin 571 Feenberg (Andrew) 33
Donner 416 Pitt (JC) 11
Walsham 389 Ellul (Jacques) 11
Kleine 231 Mitcham (Carl) 6
Zheng 222 Veblen (Thorsten) 6
Franssen (Maarten) 6
Wellfare Ihde (Don) 5
Sen 667 Ferré (Frederick) 0
Rapp (Friedrich) 0
Sociology 153
Castells 607 Socio-Technology
Escobar 187 Bijker (Wiebe) 95
Habermas 171
Foucault 162 Communication theory
Bourdieu 123 Rogers (EM) (and sociology) 120
Max Weber 52 McLuhan (Marshall) 96
1302 Postman (Neil) 31
Philosophy Gramsci (and sociology) 33
Nussbaum 116 Chomsky 21
Heidegger 36
Freire 169

This classification is somewhat forced. For example, Jacques Ellul wrote about technology from a sociological angle. From that perspective he belongs in the group along with Castells and others. However, Ellul's direction of argumentation is different. The sociologists look at technology through the filters of social behaviors. Ellul looks at society through the lens of technology. The approaches from different directions lead to somewhat different conclusions. Philosophers of technology feature much less in ICT4D literature than sociologists. It is clear that ICT4D literature is biased towards these disciplines. ICT4D literature indeed reports extensively on technologies, among others telecentres and mobile phones. But such literature is usually about usage or some form of impact, and not about theoretical issues.