Lucy Pei is a PhD student in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine. She is advised by Professor Roderic Crooks. In light of the popular and tempting proposition of technology for social good is a popular and very tempting proposition, Lucy's research looks critically at how technology intervention is framed. She is interested in how harms and extractions are also distributed alongside benefits for marginalized communities. Lucy's research seeks to collaborate with communities to develop ways to engage openly with the downsides of technological intervention while still trying to help benefits of technology reach a wider audience. She is particularly interested in how immigrant and resettled refugee communities adopt digital technologies in the context of community literacy centers. Lucy holds a BA in Global Studies and Human Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University.
This research program seeks to ethnographically understand the implications of technology for social good (including Information and Communication Technology for Development, ICTD). Researchers have evaluated methods of conducting ICTD, reported on their experiences attempting it, created frameworks of why it fails. Scholars have dismissed the projects of development and aid as neocolonial endeavors. Is there a way for technologists to practice an ethics of care and engage with systematically disadvantaged communities without re-entrenching inequalities and colonial relations?
By ethnographically studying the makers and receivers of the promises of ICTD, and the discourses, material infrastructures, designs, and spaces of such projects, this research program pushes at the contradictions between trying to help, seeking help, and perpetuating inequality and domination.
This image, on the home page of the Free Basics/ Internet.org project by Facebook, is typical of the visual tropes that are expressed by the technologists involved in Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) and related technology-for-social-good projects. The image is centered on a digital artifact, in this case a mobile phone, held by brown hands. The smiling face is blurry and mostly out of the frame. It would seem that the hands being brown and the background being a blurry beige are enough to signal that this is a context where free internet is needed.
This is the cover of the first dedicated textbook to the topic of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D). The cover repeats the visual trope we saw in the Facebook Free Basics website image: the image centers on a digital artifact, held in a brown hand. This time there are beaded bracelets on the hands and a colorful scarf in the background. Again, these appear to be what indexes the image as being technology for a context that needs development.
Here we see another image that repeats the centrality of brown hands. This time instead of a mobile phone, the image is centered on the hand pointing at what appears to be a colorful printout of a digitally-created artifact. The background is a woven straw mat and the woman wears a print garment that does not appear Western. The research group is highly successful in publications and in projects that have produced desired impacts. Members of the lab have also produced critiques of ICTD and its attendant problems.