Incommunicado 05: ad and draft program


Working Conference Program
Incommunicado 05
De Balie, Amsterdam
June 15: Public Event
June 16-17: Work Conference
Organization: Institute of Network Cultures, Waag Society, Sarai.

Please note that this draft program includes several ‘optional’ sessions. This is somewhat unusual but in line with the experimental approach to the event,which has been set up in part to explore alternatives to standard conference formats. These sessions (Info-Corporations at the UN, WIPO) are included because while we don’t have the expertise to ‘cover’ these areas, we still feel that research in these areas should be brought into the general orbit of the working conference; whether these workshops will actually be held will be decided in cooperation with participants closer to the event. All other sessions will take place as noted, including the ‘open’ sessions, which are scheduled to provide an opportunity for the presentation of case studies, new initiatives, etc. that are not easily incorporated in any of the other workshops. To register as a presenter for an open session, please contact the INC.

Incommunicado 05: From Info-Development to Info-Politics
Incommunicado 05 is a two-day working conference that will attempt to offer a critical survey of the current state of ‘info-development’, most recently known by its catchy acronym ‘ICT4D’. Not too long ago, most computer networks and ICT expertise were located in the North, and info-development seemed to be a rather technical matter of knowledge and technology transfer from North to South. While still popular, the assumption of a ‘digital divide’ that follows this familiar cartography of development has turned out to be too simple. Instead, a more complex map of actors, networked in a global info-politics, is emerging.

Different actors continue to promote different – and competing – visions of ‘info-development’. States with emerging info-economies like Brazil, China, and India form south-south alliances that challenge our sense of what ‘development’ is all about. New grassroot efforts are calling into question the entire regime of intellectual property rights (IPR) and access restrictions on which commercial info-development is based. Commons- or open-source-oriented organizations across the world are more likely to receive support from southern than from northern states, and these coalitions are already challenging northern states on their self-serving commitment to IPR and their dominance of key info-political organizations.

Actors no longer follow the simple schema of state, market, or civil society, but engage in cross-sectoral alliances. Following the crisis of older top-down approaches to development, corporations and aid donors are increasingly bypassing states and international agencies to work directly with smaller non-governmental actors. While national and international development agencies now have to defend their activity against their neoliberal critics, info-NGOs participating in public-private partnerships and info-capitalist ventures suddenly find themselves in the midst of a heated controversy over their new role as junior partner of states and corporations.

Long considered a marginal policy field dominated by technology experts, info-development is embroiled in a full-fledged info-politics, negotiated in terms of corporate accountability, state transformation, and the role of an international civil society in the creation of a new world information order. Emerging from the ‘incommunicado’ internet forum, the work conference will start mapping some of the faultlines of such a politics, and it will do so by engaging people from different info-political backgrounds in a collaborative exploration of concepts and strategies.

::Wednesday, June 15::

Public Event
20.00-22.30 Main Hall

Situating the workshop agenda in the the broader context of the UN Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as well as the controversy over an emerging international civil society, the public event on Wednesday night will introduce the topics of the work conference to a broader non-specialist audience. Offering a first definition of info-development/ICT4D, the public event will raise some of the key conference issues, including the extent to which this field is indeed characterized by a shift from North-South transactions to South-South alliances (a shift that is facilitated by the convergence of resistance to the dominant IPR regime) and the role played by info-development NGOs.

::Thursday, June 16::

Plenary 1: Introduction and Overview
10.00-11.00 Main Hall

ICT4D is widely considered a key element in processes of democratization, good governance, and poverty alleviation. This plenary will situate the rise of ICT4D in the context of the transformation of development as a whole, and outline individual workshop agendas.

Workshop A1: NGOs in Info-Development
11.30-13.00 Main Hall

We have become used to thinking of NGOs as ‘natural’ development actors. But their presence is itself indicative of a fundamental transformation of an originally state-centered development regime, and their growing influence raises difficult issues regarding their relationship to state and corporate actors, but also regarding their self-perception as representatives of civic and grassroots interests. Following a survey of some of the major info-development NGOs and networks, this workshop will address questions related to the politics of representation pursued by these actors: why should they sit at a table with governments and international agencies, and who is marginalized by such a (multistakeholder) dynamic of ‘inclusion’ dominated by NGOs?

Workshop A2: After WSIS: Exploring Multistakeholderism
11.30-13.00 Salon

For some, the 2003-5 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is just another moment in an ongoing series of inter-governmental jamborees, glamorizing disciplinary visions of global ICT governance to distract from other info-political struggles. For others, WSIS revives ‘tricontinentalist’ hopes for a New International Information and Communication Order whose emphasis on ‘civil society actors’ may even signal the transformation of a system of inter-governmental organizations. Either way, WSIS continues to encourage the articulation of agendas, positions, and stakes in a new politics of communication and information. Following the effort to actively involve civil society actors in WSIS activities, the idea of an emergent ‘multistakeholderism’ is already considered one of the key WSIS outcomes. Beyond the consensualist minimalism of incorporating critical positions in ever more encompassing final statements and action plans, this workshop will explore the promise and limits of multistakeholderism.

Workshop A3: Info-Corporations at the United Nations (Optional Session)
11.30-13.00 Cinema

The controversial agreement between Microsoft and the UNDP, issued at a time when open source software is emerging as serious non-proprietary alternative within ICT4D, is just one in a series of public-private partnerships (PPP) between corporations and the UN. As the UN reaches out to Cisco, HP, or Microsoft, many argue that these cooperations are simply an expansion of the PPP approach to international organizations, and should be assessed on their respective terms. Others suggest, however, that these developments are indicative of a much more fundamental transformation of the UN and its member organizations, and point to the sobering outcome of the almost-no-strings-attached Global Compact, widely criticized as multilateral collusion in corporate ‘bluewashing’, the Cardoso Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations and its controversial definition of civil society, or the ongoing controversy over a new set of international standards for corporate accountability. This workshop will attempt to situate PPPs in the field of info-development in the broader context of rising corporate influence at the UN.

Workshop B1: WIPO and the Friends of Development (Optional Session)
14:00-16:00 Main Hall

As the international info-economy has come to revolve around intellectual property rights, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has asserted its status as a key player in matters of info-development. Overseeing the implementation of international IPR regulations, the little-known agency has been calling for an expansion of the dominant IPR regime and generally supports euro-american strategies of bypassing multilateral negotiations through an aggressive ‘TRIPS-Plus’ bilateralism. But recently, the agency has been targeted by a global campaign, lead by a group of southern states, to challenge its limited agenda. This workshop will take a close look at WIPO and the efforts organized to change its mission.

Workshops B2-B3: Open Sessions
14.00-16.00 Open Sessions
Salon and Cinema
(Case Studies, Self-Organized Workshops with Flexible Timeslots)

Plenary 2: Aid & Info-Development after 9-11
16.30-18.00 Main hall

What is the status of aid in the promotion of ICT4D, and how have ICT4D actors responded to the politicization and securitization of aid, including the sale of security and surveillance technologies in the name of info-development? To what extent does info-development overlap with new info-infrastructures in the field of humanitarian aid (ICT4Peace)? Are global trade justice campaigns a response to classic development schemes?

::Friday, June 17::

Plenary 3: ICT4D and the Critique of Development
10.00-12.00 Main Hall

The critique of development and its institutional arrangements – of its conceptual apparatus as well as the economic and social policies implemented in its name – has always been both a theoretical project and the agenda of a multitude of ‘subaltern’ social movements. Yet much work in ICT4D shows little awareness of or interest in the history of such development critique.

Instead, techno-determinist perspectives have become hegemonic, and even many activists believe that ICT will lead to progress and eventually contribute to poverty reduction. Have development scepticism and the multiplicity of alternative visions it created simply been forgotten? Or have they been actively muted to disconnect current struggles in the area of communication and information from this history, adding legitimacy to new strategies of ‘pre-emptive’ development that are based on an ever-closer alliance between the politics of aid, development, and security?

Are analyses based on the assumption that the internet and its promise of connectivity are ‘inherently good’ already transcending existing power analyses of global media and communication structures? How can we reflect on the booming ICT-for-Development industry beyond best practice suggestions?

Workshop C1: New Axes of Info-Capitalism
13.00-15.00 Main Hall

We are witnessing a shift from in the techno-cultural development of the web from an essentially post-industrialist euro-american affair to a more complexly mapped post-third-worldist network, where new south-south alliances are already upsetting our commonsensical definitions of info-development as an exclusively north-south affair. One example of this is the surprising extent to which a ‘multilateral’ version of internet governance has been able to muster support, another is the software and ipr reform (WIPO Development Agenda). info-development, that is, has ceased to be a matter of technology transfer and has become a major terrain for the renegotiation of some of the faultlines of geopolitical conflict – with a new set of actors. But does this really affect the established dependencies on ‘northern’ donors, and if so, what are some of the new alliances that are emerging?

Workshop C2: FLOSS in ICT4D
13.00-15.00 Salon

Pushed by a growing transnational coalition of NGOs and a few allies inside the multilateral system, open source software has moved from margin to center in ICT4D visions of peer-to-peer networks and open knowledge initiatives. But while OSS and its apparent promise of an alternative non-proprietary concept of collaborative creation continues to have much counter-cultural cachet, its idiom can easily be used to support the ‘liberalization’ of telco markets and cuts in educational subsidies. What is the current status of OSS as idiom and infrastructural alternative within ICT4D?

Workshop C3: Accountability and the Critique of Representation
13.00-15.00 Cinema

The decade-long controversy inside the ‘NGO community’ on issues of accountabilty is also affecting actors in ICT4D. The singularity of network environments and the particular brand of info-politics it has facilitated suggest, however, that ‘accountability’ cannot simply be transferred into the context of the post-representative politics of network(ed) cultures. So beyond embracing stakeholder consultation and participation, what is ICT4D’s original contribution to one of the core concepts in the renewal of development as a project?

Workshop D1: The New Info-Politics of Rights
15.30-17.00 Main Hall

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the bilateral order, the discourse of human rights has become an important ‘placeholder’ for agendas of social change and transformation that are no longer articulated in ‘third worldist’ or ‘tricontinentalist’ terms. In the field of communication and information, major NGOs and their network ‘campaigns’ have also decided to approach WSIS-related issues by calling for ‘new rights’, paralleling other trends toward a juridification of info-politics more generally.

Workshop D2: Nuts and Bolts of Internet Governance
15.30-17.00 Salon

One of the few areas where WSIS is likely to produce concrete results is internet governance (IG). The IG controversy revolves around the limits of the current regime of root server control (ICANN/US) and possible alternatives, but it is also significant because it signals the repoliticization of a key domain of a technocratic internet culture that long considered itself to be above the fray of ordinary info-politics. The sense that IG has info-political implications and should be subject to discussion beyond expert fora is, however, much more widespread that actual knowledge of the techno-cultural dynamic actually involved in governing the internet. This workshop with be a nuts-and-bolts session for non-techies.

Workshop D3: Media & Migration
15.30-17.00 Cinema

Some of the organizations active in the WSIS process lost their accreditation because participants used their visa to say goodby to Africa. Widely reported, the anecdote suggests that media and migration form a nexus that is nevertheless rarely explored in the context of ICT4D. In this session, we will survey some of the work on migrant and refugee media. It will also introduce the agenda of the wireless bridge project, a sister event of the incommunicado work conference that will take place in Tarifa (Spain) later in June.

Plenary 4: Closing Session