Coding Places: Uneven Globalization of Software Work in Rio de Janiero, Brazil
The dissertation looks at the practice of software development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — a place at the periphery of the global world of software development. Software development is often conceptualized as a placeless field of endeavor. At the same time software work is highly concentrated, with "right" and "wrong" places to do it. Ethnographic data from a "wrong place" helps challenge some of the common approaches to the globalization of work and knowledge. My account shows problems with the trivialized notions of the "flattening" of the world, demonstrating not only that place continues to matter, but also that globalization can strengthen some of the existing asymmetries. On the other hand, I document the extent and importance of transnational connections in modern work, uneven as such connections may be.
I look at how cultural identities, geographic distances, differences of language, national boundaries and geopolitical tensions are negotiated in the face of increasingly "global" knowledge and technology, and how "global" technology, practices and culture are made to work in specific "local" places. I present globalization as an active process and as comprised of numerous individual globalization projects. Drawing on contemporary ethnographic data and historical accounts, I show how individuals build alliances in personal pursuits of globalization, stressing the need to understand such pursuits through a combination of cultural and economic perspectives. I show how such alliances transform local contexts, first establishing landing strips that enable the arrival of additional elements of remote practices, then gradually synchronizing local contexts with remote ones. I discuss the challenges faced by such alliances, stressing the partial and uneven state of globalization, and the combination of isolation and hyper-connectedness that sometimes emerges in the process.
The dissertation is based on one year of fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro, which included participant observation of software projects and semi-structured interviews with around one hundred people. One of the cases explored in depth is Lua, a programming language developed in Rio de Janeiro. The theoretical framework developed in the dissertation draws on the literature on communities of practice, ethnography of work, and science and technologies studies.