“From Modernisation to Capabilities: Changing Views of ICTs in the Development Process” Talk at the Development Informatics Department, University of Manchester by Richard Heeks on Monday 19th February 2007 – write up by Paul Catherall

“From Modernisation to Capabilities: Changing Views of ICTs in the Development Process” Talk at the Development Informatics Department, University of Manchester by Richard Heeks on Monday 19th February 2007


Paul Catherall

This talk was part of the International Development seminar series at Manchester University and discussed the changing ways in which information and communication technologies have been viewed within dominant paradigms of socio-economic development. The seminar described pervasive socio-economic models from an historical perspective, including structured economic approaches (the controlled economy) and the trend toward neoliberal and neoconservative approaches in recent decades. The seminar particularly mapped theories of personal freedom and ICTs, with reference to the work of Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, whose recent work on development-as-freedom presents a model for conceptualising the role of ICTs in international development.

Sen’s works have involved the development a theory of social choice which illustrates the conflict between the results of democracy, personal freedom and welfare issues, this is illustrated in Sen’s advocacy for ICT in developing economies but accompanying plea for caution to ensure ICT benefits society rather than simply benefiting particular industries or sectors of the economy. Sen’s publication Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981) demonstrated that famine occurs not only from a lack of food, but also due to the inequalities of the economic system which is responsible for distributing food (i.e. through the market), this was partly inspired by Sen’s personal experience of the Bengal famine of 1943, resulting in three million deaths. Sen has also contributed (through his writings on social freedom and poverty) to the ‘Human Development Report’ (UN Development Programme) which ranks countries on the basis of social and economic factors.

Similarly, Sen has also developed his concept of ‘capability’ in terms of civic rights and freedoms and the material or social factors involved in realising these civil rights, for example the right to education may be reduced by cultural, social and material inequalities whilst the right to vote may be hindered by lack of access to polling facilities or lack of education regarding the process; his article More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing particularly focused on the inequalities of women in the developing world, including inequalities of health care and wellbeing derived from social systems which favour men over women in these developing countries. In addition to theoretical works in economics, Sen has influenced the development of self-help programmes to provide alternative work following loss of industries and food production in India and African countries.

References

  • More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing (Sen, A. in New York Review of Books, Volume 37, Number 20

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