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Left to other peoples’ devices? A political economy perspective on the big data revolution in development

Mann, Laura (2018) Left to other peoples’ devices? A political economy perspective on the big data revolution in development. Development and Change, 49 (1). 3 - 36. ISSN 0012-155X

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Identification Number: 10.1111/dech.12347


This article brings a political economy perspective to the field of Data for Development (D4D). It highlights the fact that many projects involve extracting data from African-based organizations for expert analysis in advanced economies. This extraction is justified on the basis that it is being used for humanitarian purposes. Key actors including the UN Global Pulse and World Economic Forum have lobbied for a governance framework emphasizing greater emission, personalization and centralization of data. The article shows how this approach enables the strategies of multinational corporations which are aiming to become data custodians of Africa’s emerging economies. Little attention has been paid to the geographical distribution of capacity building nor to the ways in which data-driven restructuring may alter existing livelihoods. As African economies become increasingly ‘digital’, data will become a source of power in economic governance. Current frameworks amount to a kind of industrial policy that supports the learning and innovation of foreign firms. The article aims to move D4D away from the focus on humanitarianism towards economic development, considering the opportunities for African citizens to benefit from their data as a source of revenue, knowledge and power. The conclusion suggests lines of inquiry for taking research further.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 International Institute of Social Studies
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Date Deposited: 06 Nov 2017 08:40
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2024 01:12
Projects: RES-167-25-0701
Funders: Economics and Social Research Council

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