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An ethnography of the one laptop per child (OLPC) programme in Uruguay

Beitler, Daiana (2013) An ethnography of the one laptop per child (OLPC) programme in Uruguay. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis is an ethnographic study of the Uruguayan programme CEIBAL, which aims to promote social inclusion by providing children and teachers with laptop computers. The novelty of the study lies in the fact that it illustrates empirically the complicated work of conceiving, implementing and sustaining policy in practice, both at the macro level and through local instantiations. This was achieved in three inter-related ways. First, by looking at how the national project of development was conceptualised around themes of techno-modernity and consolidated the promise of inclusiveness through claims on the universality of ‘technical needs’. Technology provided the conceptual space in which to resolve a presumed dichotomy between themes of equality, education and paternalistic state and those of economic development, modernisation and innovation. Second, it was analysed by exploring the way in which heterogeneous assemblages of people, values, laptops, and interests, were mobilized to stabilize the programme’s material and conceptual order across a wide range of sites and actors. This was based on the recognition of a ‘natural affinity’ between CEIBAL and Uruguay, which concealed differences, provided coherence and built a strong sense of ‘national consensus’. And finally, as a result of the other two, it was analysed by examining the relationship between ‘the technical’ and ‘the social’ as inscriptions and ‘fudged’ values objectified in the device faced users and their expectations. This implied looking at how CEIBAL officials attempted to make the laptop embody a political and moral project of inclusion, and its infinite promises, so that it could perform them. People in the three localities studied in this thesis (Montevideo, Paysandú and Queguayar) created very tangible strategies for dealing with notions of ‘social inclusion’, expressed different understandings of how technologies created possibilities for them and enacted these beliefs through a wide range of practices. This included the creation of new metaphors of ‘social inclusion’ through the notion of ‘connectivity,’ reconfiguring both social values and definitions of what constitute ‘connections’ as a result: the laptop’s ability to connect children with each ‘wired up the social fabric.’ These negotiations over the possibility of making connections are explored through a new concept that I refer to as ‘geographies of possibilities,’ which describes topographies of power that influence people’s ability to make technology perform. The key to this notion lies in the recognition of several forms of agency that are enacted in strategies to navigate through different geographies: people are not mere recipients of policy but active constituents of its various forms and instantiations in practice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Daiana Beitler
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Slater, Don

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