[PhD Thesis] - Exploring the Link between ICT Intervention and Human Development through a Social Capital Lens

While it is generally accepted that information and communication technology (ICT) can lead to development, the process through which this may happen remains unclear. At the core of this debate is the very definition of the term ‘development’. In this thesis, I adopted Amartya Sen’s definition. According to Sen (1999), human development is built upon a particular capability approach. He inferred that human development is the enhancement of human capabilities (freedom of choice) in order that people can live a life which they value and have reasons to value. The capability approach has, however, been criticized for its individualistic stance. In responding to this criticism, this thesis integrated the societal level by adding collective capabilities to conceptualize development. Such capabilities, which are not simple aggregates of individual capabilities, are built on collective action that can be fostered through social capital. Social capital is characterized as shared norms or values that promote social cooperation within and between communities. It can be further categorized into three forms: bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. Bonding refers to networks between homogeneous groups of people, bridging refers to networks between socially heterogeneous groups, and linking refers to vertical ties between different hierarchies of power and social status. The research approach used in this thesis was interpretive; specific research questions emerged with the progression of data collections and analyses. The eventual outcome of the research process is a proposition that ICT intervention can promote social capital building process, which in turn encourages collective action that can create collective and individual capabilities. Two sets of research questions emerged during this course of action:
RQ. (1) The purpose of the first set of research questions is to understand the process of building social capital through ICT intervention and its implications for development.
(a) What is the process needed to create, maintain, and extend the bonding, bridging, and linking of social capital through ICT intervention in the mountain regions of developing countries?
(b) How does extended social capital foster development in the mountain regions of developing countries?

RQ. (2) The purpose of the second set of research questions is to further understand the process of building collective  and individual capabilities through a social capital and collective action perspective.
(a) How does social capital promote collective action in the mountain regions of developing countries?
(b) How does collective action enhance collective and individual capabilities of the mountain communities of 
developing countries? 

To explore the answers to these questions, this thesis drew on the analytical lenses of actor-network theory (ANT), social capital, collective action, and collective capabilities. Insights from the interpretive case study of a wireless project carried out in the Myagdi district, a mountain region of Nepal, were used to connect data and theory. Three rounds of data collections were carried out in ten villages of the Myagdi district within the span of three years. Data analysis was carried out to understand the process of building social capital through ICT intervention, and its relation to human development through collective action and extended capabilities.
The empirical findings are presented in the five papers published in peer-reviewed international journals and conference proceedings. Results show that the formation and extension of social capital due to the NWNP in the mountain district went through different phases. These related to the identification of the relevant actors, their roles, negotiations between them, and their interest alignment. The interaction between people in the community and the project enabled the residents of the village to create, maintain and extend their social capital. Subsequently, various forms of social capital, such as bonding, bridging and linking, assisted them in promoting collective action. This led to the building and development of collective and individual capabilities through the improvement of social opportunities, education, and income-generating activities. The study also 
identified challenges, such as over dependency on a single actor, a high illiteracy rate, poor physical infrastructure, political instability, and lack of participation, all of which may impede the development process.  

Based on the dialogue between existing ICT4D literature and observations from the case study, this thesis makes two substantive contributions to an understanding of the holistic view of ICT intervention and human development. Firstly, this thesis contributes to the conceptualization of human development. It describes the role of ICT, social capital and collective action in fostering the development process in the mountain regions of developing countries. Secondly, this thesis broadens the theoretical and empirical understanding of the process of building and extending social capital through ICT intervention.  It does so by integrating the complementary lenses of actor-network theory and social capital. This thesis also reveals some practical implications for policy makers. The findings suggest that the ICT policies and strategies of governmental and non-governmental organizations in developing countries should focus on analyzing the developmental context  before embarking on an ICT4D project. They should, for example, consider development for what and for whom. The project should be attentive in identifying key actors whilst, at the same time, enhancing local participation and the social capital building process in remote communities of developing countries. These underlining guidelines can promote collective action, and build collective and individual capabilities that can lead to human development in the long run.

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