Essays on information and communication technology and human emancipation of vulnerable people

Joia, Luiz Antonio
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This dissertation aims to engage with the debate on social inclusion in the digital society from a human development perspective. The study analyzes that inequality in information and communication technology (ICT) goes beyond lack of access and skills by putting a lens on the choices, and opportunities to expand human autonomy in personal and social life. Although ICT can potentially contribute to improving various aspects of life, from reducing poverty to strengthening democratic policies, it also exacerbates pre-existing inequalities raising concerns about the relationship between ICT and development. Consequently, theorizing Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) has gained increasing attention from researchers and significant advancements are seen in this arena. That way, aiming at contributing to theoretical advancement, this dissertation focuses on the issue of digital inequality from an individual perspective, by investigating the following research question: How ICT can contribute to human emancipation of vulnerable populations? This research is a novel attempt to advance knowledge and demonstrate the complexity of social inclusion in the digital society, presenting the findings in three complementary papers. Fundamentally, this is a multi-paper dissertation comprising the introduction, three scientific papers, and a concluding chapter that discusses and compares the insights obtained from each paper. The first paper supports the study's claim that ICT-based innovations emerge in environments with adequate infrastructure, communication, and systems. However, it is necessary to consider a broader context analyzing institutional, political, historical, and cultural conditions when thinking about inclusive initiatives via ICT in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). That said, paper one investigates the intended and unintended consequences of ICT initiatives in social protection and public education programs for vulnerable groups in Brazil. This research falls into the socio- constructionist view of technology and considers that ICTs' effect and value towards the achievement of human autonomy can only be realized when it is put into use. ICT-based innovation cannot be implemented in a vacuum, but in a specific context where usage is influenced by existing practices, institutions, other technologies, and politics. Building on this argument, the second paper introduces the key concepts of this dissertation based on two different yet complementary theoretical lenses. It presents the human development perspective through Sen's Capability Approach (2001) combined with human emancipation lens from Freire's Emancipatory Pedagogy (2005) to understand local appropriation of ICT-based innovations in the digital age. From there, the study proposes and applies a Digital Inclusion for Human Emancipation (DI4HE) conceptual model to evaluate an empowerment tech program for vulnerable people in Brazil via ICT. The study identifies the relational dimensions of human emancipation, highlighting the paradoxes of inclusion and the asymmetries of power that can hinder vulnerable groups' empowerment via ICT diffusion. The third paper deepens the understanding of the relational dimensions of human emancipation by analyzing how local actors can promote emancipation through ICT tech programs focusing on vulnerable groups' skilled capital. Paper three discusses how high-tech4 educational programs can emancipate vulnerable youth by enacting emancipatory outcomes amidst their oppressive environments. This study pinpoints that technology is the tool that changes the world, but it must be reoriented in the right direction: solving social needs. This dissertation represents an effort to contribute to the debates around the role digital inclusion initiatives can or cannot play in supporting human emancipation in LMIC settings, specifically taking the case of Brazil. Thus, the study brings a postcolonial critical approach to extend the current body of knowledge in the ICT4D field, pursuing implications for research and practice.