Date(s) - 16/05/18
Globalization, Transnationalism & Development Colloquium
When: May 16, 2018, from 15.30 to 17.00
Where: GG80-82, Spiegelzaal
The topic of this lecture is:
Development Paradigms and African Digital Innovation: The Cage of New Institutional Economics
London School of Economics
This paper seeks to push back against a technologically deterministic account of digital economic change by demonstrating how the economic impacts of digital technologies critically depend on the dominant developmental paradigm or ideas being pursued by firms, policy-makers and funding agencies within a given economy. In our paper, we demonstrate how the arrival of new digital technologies has coincided with the rising prominence of New Institutional Economics and New Public Management within the field of international development. Both approaches place emphasis on the reduction of transaction costs and the maximization of consumer surplus as key mechanisms through which economies becomes more efficient and less corrupt. Such approaches neglect the need for economies to also build up competitive productive and technological capabilities, and thus move out of areas of the global economy with few barriers of entry into areas with higher technological barriers of entry. African countries are particularly susceptible to dominant paradigms from outside due to their reliance on external funding. Our paper argues that in the absence of complementary policies to build up African countries’ competitive productive and technological capabilities, the promotion and mobilization of digital technologies as transaction cost-reducing technologies may worsen African countries’ disadvantageous trade positions. To put it crudely, more efficient markets will facilitate the export of primary commodities and the import of manufactured goods but may make it harder for African economies to build up competitive industries, particularly if the knowledge rents generated by digital platforms and solutions are captured by foreign technology providers. However, we argue that such impacts are neither inevitable nor automatic; rather they depend on forms of digital governance as well as the relative support given to digital infrastructure in relation to other vital infrastructures such as transport, electricity, and education/research.
Dr. Laura Mann is a sociologist whose research focuses on the political economy of markets and new information and communication technologies in Africa. Before joining the LSE as an Assistant Professor, she worked as a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford and at the African Studies Center in Leiden. She is on the Editorial Working Group of the Review of African Political Economy and is the book reviews editor for Africa. Currently she is working on two major projects: a book project examining the economic ideology of the Islamist movement in Sudan and a new research project examining the political economy of digital Value Chains in Agriculture (in the Rift Valley, Kenya, and the Central Valley, California, USA). She is a research affiliate of the Firoz Lalji Center for Africa.