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Collective Action & ICT in the Provision of Public Goods in Areas of Limited Statehood

Steven Livingston
The George Washington University
Steven Livingston
The George Washington University

Abstract

This paper considers electronically enabled collective action in the provision of public goods – security, sanitation, water, food, roads, and electricity – where the state is incapable or unwilling to provide them. An area of limited statehood (ALS) is the term given to these places. Adopting Earl (E&K) and Kimport’s leveraged affordances model of electronically enabled collective actions, we treat collaboration costs as variable. E&K speak of collective actions that are highly leveraged with low to zero collaboration costs (Theory 2.0 actions). Online petitions are an example. For our paper we would point to Ushahidi deployments, FrontlineSMS and RapidSMS txt sharing platforms, Trade at Hand commodity pricing information sharing, and M-Pesa and MTN-Money commercial exchange platforms. Higher collaboration costs are found where ICT can be only partially leveraged. E&K call this “Supersizing.” ICT can facilitate the rapid scaling up of actions, such as protests, but unlike Theory 2.0 (involving only the movement of bits – of information) supersizing must, by necessity, involve the movement of physical objects, such as humans, or atoms as we say. For our cases, we point to the need for hierarchical structures capable of moving atoms – security forces, medicines, and food when and where they are needed. From bits to atoms outlines the contours of the reach and limitations of a leveraged affordance model of collective action initiatives designed to address shortcomings in the provision of public goods in ALS. This we believe is an important insight, especially as the global population soars to 10 billion people by 2050, with much of the growth in parts of the world with weak and ineffective states. As networking technologies continue to flourish, even where basic public goods are absent, we must understand both the promise and limitations of efforts to leverage technologies for public goods.