Introducing GEONET: studying Sub-Saharan Africa’s knowledge economies

15 November 2014 0

I’m happy to announce the launch of the new GEONET project: studying ‘Changing Connectivities and the Potentials of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Knowledge Economy.’ This five-year project, funded by an ERC Starting Grant, aims to understand the difference that changing connectivities are having on Sub-Saharan Africa’s emerging information economies. We plan to do this by dividing the project into three packages.

The first one will focus on economic geographies of knowledge-production and digital participation from Sub-Saharan Africa. We will map the geographies of Sub-Saharan Africa’s knowledge economies, examining how they are changing over time, and what factors explain them. These initial data will inform the sampling strategies and research design for the rest of the project’s work.

The second one will look at outsourcing, and ‘bottom-of-the-pyramid’ labour: focusing on microwork and call/contact centres and projects. By interviewing and surveying workers and managers, we aim to find out how these labour practices impact on the lives of workers – do they represent new opportunities or new forms of exploitation made possible by more efficient communication technologies?

The third one will look at specialist and high-end services being nurtured in Sub-Saharan Africa’s innovation hubs, looking at how and where they are taking root, and whether they play an important role in the development of the region’s knowledge economies. By interviewing and surveying workers and managers in both the hubs, and the cities in which those hubs are located, we aim to find out who ultimately benefits from the spread of knowledge work in the region.

In this project I am joined by an outstanding team of researchers: Sanna Ojanperä and Stefano De Sabbata will be focusing on the economic geographies of knowledge-production. Chris Foster will be focusing on outsourcing, microwork, and ‘bottom-of-the-pyramid’ labour (we will also be joined by Isis Hjorth, Vili Lehdonvirta, and Helena Barnard in a sister project looking at the same questions in the contexts of both Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia). Nicolas Friederici (and another researcher still to be recruited) will be focusing on innovation hubs and the high-end knowledge economy.

There is much that we hope to achieve in this project. As we rigorously and critically examine changing connectivities and knowledge economies, we hope to better understand where and how value is captured and created, the tangible differences that changing connectivities are making, and – perhaps most importantly – who ultimately benefits and who doesn’t.

About Mark Graham

Mark Graham is the Professor of Internet Geography at the OII, a Faculty Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, a Research Fellow at Green Templeton College, and an Associate in the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. He leads a range of research projects spanning topics between digital labour, the gig economy, internet geographies, and ICTs and development.