Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana
How is the Internet experienced in the margins of the global economy?
In her new book, Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana, I School professor Jenna Burrell presents a user study set initially in the Internet cafés of Accra, Ghana but gradually expanded to include roadside youth clubs, churches, secondhand computer shops, and electronic waste dumps. This talk offers two threads of analysis from the book. First, an examination of the youth who used the Internet in these spaces to cultivate foreign contacts through Yahoo! chatrooms and dating sites and how they made sense of the frequent and often sudden breakdowns in their online relationships. Second, an argument for the supply of secondhand computers imported from abroad by Ghanaian transnational family businesses as a process innovation that made the Internet cafés materially feasible despite Ghana’s economic and infrastructural limitations.
The book bridges between science and technology studies and African studies to demonstrate how studying spaces of cultural discontinuity and where the more erratic processes of globalization operate can contribute new insights to the way we theorize about users.
Jenna Burrell is an assistant professor in the School of Information. She is currently leading a three-year NSF-funded study of marginalized populations and their use of digital technologies for self-organizing in China, Ghana, South Africa, and Uganda. Her interests span many research topics including theories of materiality, user agency, transnationalism, post-colonial relations, and digital representation. She is the recipient of the Nicholas C. Mullins paper award from the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and a Regents’ Junior Faculty Fellowship.