Case Studies – Introduction

I am conducting case studies on the effect of nationalism on ICTs in Western Equatorial Africa, as first proposed here and then mapped here.

Ghana and Nigeria represent the Anglophone countries and former British colonies in this sample, while Togo, Benin, and Cote D’Ivoire are the Francophone countries and former French colonies. This general grouping divides them historically and (to a limited extent) linguistically, but in order to investigate cultural, technical, and political differences between them I adopt a standardized outline across each case. This includes each of those elements and then marks out the points of similarity and difference between them, towards an answer to what role nationalism plays in the constitution of information and communication technology institutions in each case.

Technical considerations will begin with the physical infrastructure currently present and under construction in each country. Though national borders are not clear indicators of internet infrastructure’s borders, each country may handle provisioning and regulating the development of this infrastructure in its own way. Next, I will review networking and transport layers to better understand in each case how the country structures its communication technologies, for example, in terms of distribution and transparency. After this, we encounter the internet service providers (ISPs) in each nation, whose patterns of growth and change may demonstrate how internet access is provided or inhibited, and how these gateways to ICT infrastructure cooperate or compete.

Institutions become the focus, as bridges between the cultural, the technical, and the political. I will try to detail the socioeconomic conditions under which the ICT institutions operate. From there, questions of international relations can enter the discussion more clearly for each case, as can issues of regulation and incentives in the market for internet access and for long-term changes. This also lays the groundwork for questions of policy and of cultural practices in this context. At the other end of the spectrum, tracing the distribution, availability, and cost of end-user ICTs such as PCs and mobile devices, along with the patterns of content production, circulation, and consumption, make explicit the stakes of these studies, and grounds the questions of national identity and identity politics in tangible experiences.

Culture’s expression in these case studies, then, breaks down along three lines. In addition to the linguistic and historical categories mentioned above, these five countries include myriad ethnic and religious groups. Organizing case studies according to those demographics would explode the scope of this semester, but an awareness of that diversity makes feasible some more nuanced observations about the larger issue of nationality and ICTs. For one, the interplay between ethnicity, religion, and nationality can be seen as the grounds of a more complex national makeup than the monolithic geographical categories. For another, technical differences between the local and regional languages in this area complicate the simplistic Anglophone-Francophone division. And finally, taking into account the breadth and heterogeneity of the populations in this area allows these case studies to acknowledge their serious limits, and to approach the policy and technical literatures with skepticism alongside technological optimism.

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