Top Ten Books on Digital Development

Top Ten Books on Digital Development

Following a popular Twitter Thread I wrote on this subject recently, I thought it might be useful to have these all in one place. 

1. Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics is my favourite ICT4D read to date. I read the whole book in one weekend and was gripped from start to finish. If you only read one Digital Development book, make it this one. Nanjala Nyabola combines insightful analysis with an engaging style that makes this book the most accessible of the lot. The book combines positive description of the agency of Kenyan feminists using Twitter as a new space to do politics and shift gender norms, to the insidious use of Kenya as a test bed for Cambridge Analytica before they unleashed their digital campaigns on Trump and Brexit. You can get a feel for the book by listening to this podcast in which Nanjala discusses the book with me when she visited us at IDS.

2. The best ICT4D textbook is unquestionably this one by Richard Heeks from CDI Manchester. The textbook provides a truly comprehensive overview of the field from the perspective of informatics / HCI. I may be the only person (not employed by Routeledge) who has ever read it cover to cover in a single week and who has lived to thoroughly recommend it. I know that not everyone is as enthusiastic about a good text book as I am – so rest assured Richard is a great fan of diagrams, charts and tables – so you can just flick through the pictures if the going gets tough!

3. Tim Unwin wrote the classic ICT4D back in 2009 and this year (2019) he returned to write Reclaiming ICT4D. If you are less interested in information inputs and outputs and instead yearn for some critical analysis about which interests are driving the field of ICT4D, then you to need look further than his new offering. Tim takes no prisioners in this look at the dark side of ICT4D and (spoiler alert) I don’t think it detracts from reading it to know that he ends up arguing that ICT4D is run to serve the interests of digital corporations – or D4ICT.

4. Technologies of Choice?: Your ICT4D library is incomplete without a copy of Technologies of Choice by Professor Dorothea Kleine from the Sheffield Institute of International Development. This book provides simply the best framework for understanding ICT4D from the perspective of Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach. Dorothea’s approach successfully de-centres the technology to allow a focus on the extent to which digital development initiatives enhance peoples freedom to live lives that that they have reason to value. I don’t know if Dorothea consciously set out to out-diagram the chartmeister Richard Heeks but there is a mind-blowing diagram too. 

5. Digital Economies at the Global Margins is the best collection of chapters on digital geographies at the margins. Mark Graham from the Oxford Internet Institute has curated a hugely impressive list of contributions from ICT4D heavyweights including Anita Gurumurthy of ITforChange India and Professor Bitange Ndemo from the University fo Nairobi. And if that isn’t enough to tempt you to buy you own copy, wait for it … you can download a free copy from publishers IDRC here. How cool is that? Someday all books will be published this way.

6. Algorithms of Oppression by Professor Safiya Noble from UCLA has published the best articulation of the algorithmic amplification of racial discrimination. This ground-breaking book is essential reading for anyone still labouring under the notion that technology is neutral or that racism can’t be automated. Using the example of Google’s search algorithm Safiya shows how technology often reflects, reproduces and amplifies existing patterns of injustice and inequality (and why).   

7. Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks is the best book for understanding how powerful actors use technology to profile, police and punish the poor and working class. Virginia Eubank’s work on technology and social justice has helped us to understand how social inequality is often automated in code in ways that are insidious and profound. The book is illustrated with disturbing portraits of individuals whose benefits are cut off or who have been pulled into the ‘justice’ system as a result of prejudice encoded in algorithms. As similar systems are built into the digital governance systems of states and non-state actors (including humanitarian and development agencies), automating inequality will become a profound concern for international development.

8. The Intersectional Internet edited by Safiya Noble and Brendesha Tynes does a great job of joining up the dots as to how the use of the offline intersectional discrimination and dimensions of disadvanatage are reflected, reproduced and amplified on the internet. Whereas other books have focused primarily on the online reproduction of gender, race or class oppression, this is the single best collection of articles that articulate clearly and forcefully how (dis)advantage is amplified in digital spaces by intersections, including those of gender and race, with class.

9. Geek Heresy by Kentaro Toyama is the best book to understand that the use of technology can only ever amplify existing human capacity and intent (and that it can never substitute for it where none exists. A co-founder of Microsoft Research India, Kentaro distilled years of research into this amplification thesis, which is Rule #6 in the Rules of Technology. This thesis was published as an article in the Boston Review in 2010 and kicked of an extensive online debate. I previously wrote a full review of Geek Heresy for the Journal of Community Informatics.

10.Women and ICT in Africa and the Middle East is the second collection edited by Ineke Buskens and Alice Webb. There is no better source of feminist research about women’s positive use of ICTs from a wide range of countries. Each chapter presents both the positive potentials and patriarchal obstacles to the use of digital technologies to further women’s development interests. Like the earlier edition (thanks to those nice people at IDRC) this treasure trove of case studies of digital development is entirely free to download here

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