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Alternative rationalities in the governance of information and communication technologies: a case study from rural South Africa

posted on 14.02.2017, 00:33 by Plantinga, Paul Sicco
Many provincial, state, and local governments in developing countries are looking to emulate apparently successful regional information and communications technology (ICT) and Information Society models; from the high-tech production focus of Silicon Valley in California to the user-oriented, social shaping approach in Finland’s North Karelia province. However, it is now well recognised in the ICT governance literature that the simple transfer of policies and governance arrangements from one context to another results in unexpected and undesirable outcomes due to a mismatch between best practice recommendations and the local institutional environment. Scholars working in the field of ICTs and development emphasise that there is in fact a deeper conflict in beliefs, meanings, or rationalities around the goals of ICT-related development and the means by which development is achieved, which undermines the sustainability and impact of ICT implementations. Very little is known about the rationalities underpinning attempts at regional ICT governance in developing contexts, especially in more rural areas of developing countries. This research aims to support a conscious awareness of the distinctive mix of rationalities in these environments. In so doing, it seeks to uncover alternative, often suppressed ideas about ICT governance and encourage a more creative, inclusive, and contextually-anchored approach to ICT governance. An interpretive case study was conducted in a focal rural province of South Africa, and the findings compared to an urban case to highlight distinctive characteristics. A number of similarities and differences emerged along three main dimensions. First, on the relationship between ICTs and development, there is a similar dominant rationality of technological determinism, which aims to link marginalised citizens to opportunities and knowledge in the global market-place. The rural case is characterised by a less prominent but significant ‘social shaping’ orientation which encourages user-led development of the technology. Second, on the mode of ICT governance, government leadership is viewed as critical due to the underdeveloped nature of the province, but is open to partnerships with a diverse mix of actors to access resources and expertise. In line with the social shaping orientation, some governance actors argue that non-‘IT people’ should lead ICT governance. The final dimension concerns the space and scale of ICT-related development and governance influence, and the rural case is dominated by a ‘glocal’ perspective in seeking to connect people in rural areas with global opportunities, whilst the provincial government seeks to assert a provincial scale of influence. The urban case reflects a more diverse mix of spaces and scales. This identification and comparison of rationalities was made possible by the development of a classification framework which emerged from a grounded process of literature review, data collection, and analysis. Through the systematic grouping of rationalities, the dominance and suppression of specific ideas and the relationship between rationalities from different fields becomes apparent. A close reading of the framework and case studies in this thesis can provide insights into the diversity of and relationships between ICT governance rationalities in other regions.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Graeme Johanson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Clayton School of IT


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Information Technology