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Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana (Acting with Technology) [Hardcover]

by Jenna Burrell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 4, 2012 0262017369 978-0262017367

The urban youth frequenting the Internet cafés of Accra, Ghana, who are decidedly not members of their country's elite, use the Internet largely as a way to orchestrate encounters across distance and amass foreign ties--activities once limited to the wealthy, university-educated classes. The Internet, accessed on second-hand computers (castoffs from the United States and Europe), has become for these youths a means of enacting a more cosmopolitan self. In Invisible Users, Jenna Burrell offers a richly observed account of how these Internet enthusiasts have adopted, and adapted to their own priorities, a technological system that was not designed with them in mind. Burrell describes the material space of the urban Internet café and the virtual space of push and pull between young Ghanaians and the foreigners they encounter online; the region's famous 419 scam strategies and the rumors of "big gains" that fuel them; the influential role of churches and theories about how the supernatural operates through the network; and development rhetoric about digital technologies and the future viability of African Internet cafés in the region. Burrell, integrating concepts from science and technology studies and African studies with empirical findings from her own field work in Ghana, captures the interpretive flexibility of technology by users in the margins but also highlights how their invisibility puts limits on their full inclusion into a global network society.

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Editorial Reviews


"In this fascinating ethnography of life in internet cafes in Ghana, Jenna Burrell shows how a blend of scammers, religion, and a grey market produce a new form of digital marginality. Exploring the 'material turn' in science and technology studies, this book makes an important contribution to media studies, development studies, and anthropology."--Trevor Pinch, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University

"Jenna Burrell offers a vivid and detailed portrait of a corner of the internet few of us consider closely -- the hundreds of millions of internet users in the developing world who share the online spaces we inhabit. Burrell's in-depth examination of internet culture in Ghana shatters stereotypes with nuance, encouraging us to think through complex issues like advance fee fraud, computer recycling and cross-cultural encounter from the perspective of ordinary, middle-class Africans approaching the internet with fears and hopes both similar and different to the ones we hold."--Ethan Zuckerman, Director, Center for Civic Media at MIT

"Too often, scholars and practitioners of information technology have used Africa as a foil for modernity and development without ever bothering to see what is happening there. This book is an extraordinary corrective. Rich with stories of Ghanaian life from the Internet Café to the Pentecostal church to the UN World Summit on Information Society, it uses this material to reformulate ideas of agency, materiality, orality and marginality. Invisible Users is a work on the global spread of information technology unlike any other, and a model for any to come."--Christopher M. Kelty, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Information Studies, UCLA

"In this well-written and compelling book, Burrell deftly supports her conviction that future scholarship must recognize the inconsistencies inherent in the digital experiences of those who live in the margins of our global society." -- Practical Matters

About the Author

Jenna Burrell is Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley

Product Details

  • Series: Acting with Technology
  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (May 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262017369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262017367
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,237,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How They Internet in Ghana October 25, 2012
I have been on the internet for about twenty years, amazed at first by simply being able to send typed messages worldwide and to pay nothing for the service (since I was on a free community network). Now I pay to be online, of course, and though the ease and speed of e-mail continues to be of astonishing usefulness, and though it is still the activity on which I spend most of my online time, the internet has become a commercial hub, and the view on the screen is no longer typed letters but pictures and video. That's how the internet developed here in the US. There were those that thought that it would be the same story all over the world; after all, the internet was going to make us all global e-citizens inhabiting the same cyberspace, and especially the young users, whether from China or Brazil, would all be doing about the same thing. Even in Ghana, the predictions would have gone, young people would trot along the same electronic trail. Jenna Burrell, an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, knows different. Ghanaian youths did the internet differently, with their own aims and achievements (not all of which were laudable). Burrell has summarized her findings in _Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana_ (MIT Press). This is the sort of sociological study we should be seeing plenty more of; it is a detailed and intricate look at a small segment of internet use. It will have to be a foundation for future studies; Burrell did her research in the internet cafés before there was extensive cable connection to Ghana and before the boom in mobile computing.

The internet was supposed to extend to everybody, and this seems to be happening, although slowly in the margins.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong Merger of Technology and African Studies September 3, 2012
By Kevin D
This is a richly documented study of what the Internet means in Ghana. It nicely blends African studies with technological studies, showing a diversity of experiences and the importance of qualitative research. A longer review is available here:(...)
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