David NemerApr 19, 2022
Technology of the Oppressed
Inequity and the Digital Mundane in Favelas of Brazil
MIT Press 2022
In Technology of the Oppressed: Inequity and the Digital Mundane in Favelas of Brazil (MIT Press, 2022), David Nemer draws on extensive ethnographic fieldwork to provide a rich account of how favela residents engage with technology in community technology centers and in their everyday lives. Their stories reveal the structural violence of the information age. But they also show how those oppressed by technology don’t just reject it, but consciously resist and appropriate it, and how their experiences with digital technologies enable them to navigate both digital and nondigital sources of oppression—and even, at times, to flourish. Nemer uses a decolonial and intersectional framework called Mundane Technology as an analytical tool to understand how digital technologies can simultaneously be sites of oppression and tools in the fight for freedom. Building on the work of the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, he shows how the favela residents appropriate everyday technologies—technological artifacts (cell phones, Facebook), operations (repair), and spaces (Telecenters and Lan Houses)—and use them to alleviate the oppression in their everyday lives. He also addresses the relationship of misinformation to radicalization and the rise of the new far right. Contrary to the simplistic techno-optimistic belief that technology will save the poor, even with access to technology these marginalized people face numerous sources of oppression, including technological biases, racism, classism, sexism, and censorship. Yet the spirit, love, community, resilience, and resistance of favela residents make possible their pursuit of freedom.
David Nemer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Studies and in the Latin American Studies program at the University of Virginia. He is also a Faculty Associate at Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center and Princeton University's Brazil Lab. His research and teaching interests cover the intersection of Science and Technology Studies (STS), Anthropology of Technology, ICT for Development (ICT4D), and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Nemer is an ethnographer whose fieldworks include the Slums of Vitória, Brazil; Havana, Cuba; Guadalajara, Mexico; and Eastern Kentucky, Appalachia. Nemer is the author of Technology of the Oppressed (MIT Press, 2022) and Favela Digital: The other side of technology (Editora GSA, 2013).
Austin Clyde is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago Department of Computer Science. He researches artificial intelligence and high-performance computing for developing new scientific methods. He is also a visiting research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Science, Technology, and Society program, where my research addresses the intersection of artificial intelligence, human rights, and democracy.