Tensions in a Nepali telecenter: An ethnographic look at progress using activity theory
Jeffrey Chih-Yih Lee, Pepperdine University, United States
Pepperdine University . Awarded
Developing countries such as Nepal struggle to keep up technologically. While advances make it possible for average Nepalis to access mobile phones, computers, and digital cameras, barriers impede access. As with other governments (Huerta & Rodrigo, 2007; Mokhtarian & Meenakshisun, 2002), Nepal responded in 2004 with telecenters to push sustainable technology. Most telecenters still struggle to accomplish their purpose (M. K. Bhattarai, personal communication, June 29, 2009).
Developing countries struggle to meet communities’ technological demands (Colle & Raul, 2003). Issues other than technology limit telecenters from fully providing services and meeting the needs of the local community. These issues, which are often cultural and historical in nature, inhibit communities from integrating fully technology.
This study explores issues within a telecenter located in Sankhu, a small village outside of Kathmandu. To understand the issues, an ethnographic approach was adopted as the method for data collection. Given the problem, Activity Theory was used as a framework for analyzing and understanding the tensions Sankhu youth face. As a descriptive theory, it fits properly with an ethnographic study (Spradley, 1979). The analysis of tensions provides valuable information for improving current and future telecenter programs.
This study takes an ethnographic approach in investigating the tensions that exist at Sankhu. Sankhu is a rural community located about 20 kilometers east of Kathmandu. Research was gathered during 2 months.
The researcher embedded himself in the community from late June 2009 and collected data until mid-August. A total of 43 people were interviewed, creating 206 pages of transcripts. Direct observations totaled 67 hours.
Tensions were discussed in order of the frequency mentioned in interviews. Major tensions included gender norms, generational distrust, lack of awareness, and funding. Mid-level tensions included lack of training and time. Minor tensions were location, power, and connectivity.
Through the application of Activity Theory, more tensions surfaced than anticipated. The observations and analysis yielded the following conclusions: (1) Females have fewer rights and access to technology (2) Lack of time to learn and use technology (3) Elders are gatekeepers (4) Funding models for telecenters impede sustainability (5) Local communities are not aware of technological benefits.
Lee, J.C.Y. Tensions in a Nepali telecenter: An ethnographic look at progress using activity theory. Ph.D. thesis, Pepperdine University.
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