Fried eggs and phronesis: ICTS and social learning in rural development

High, C. (2005). Fried eggs and phronesis: ICTS and social learning in rural development. In: XXI Congress of the European Society for Rural Sociology, 22-26 Aug 2005, Keszthely, Hungary.



In this paper I want to challenge slightly the focus of the working group suggested in the conference call. I am still very much interested in the potential for Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to inform or perhaps transform rural development. But rather than focusing on the capacity of ICTs to transform spatial and economic relationships and thereby provide new opportunities for trading and the sharing of information, I am interested in how technology can be enabling of the deliberate transformation of social relationships. That is, I will argue that ICTs have the potential to open spaces for learning, (High, 2002), to enable the creation of platforms for social or interactive learning (Gibbon, 2004; SLIM, 2004b), or to create heterotopic spaces (Jones & SPEECH, 2001) where new power figurations and social relationships can be rehearsed.
In short, I intend to point to ways that I believe ICTs can be harnessed for rural development through facilitating social learning. Not social learning as it
has sometimes been studied - a phenomenon ‘out there’ in the world to do with the way that individual learning is socialised or affected by social relations, or transformations of group psychology. I mean social learning in a sense that is beginning to receive more attention in the literature on environmental governance and management (King & Jiggins, 2002; Ison et al,
2004; Keen et al, 2005a) – the focus of reflexive practitioners who facilitate and participate in transformative social processes in response to environmental challenges. The ‘social’ here suggests social co-ordination, and the ‘learning’ points to the need for innovation in the light of the uncertainties facing communities and other social groupings.
To make sense of such applications of ICTs, I intend to serve you up a fried egg, at least metaphorically. Peter Checkland’s metaphor is a little bit more palatable than baldly stating that I intend to take a soft systems perspective (Checkland, 2000), but the idea is to open up the difference between hard technical expertise and the soft social skills that Goleman (1996) suggests are
the key to success in many lines of work. With this on the plate I intend to discuss two particular applications of ICTs in rural development: computer aided decision-support models for social learning and participatory video
approaches to programme evaluation. In conclusion I shall suggest that what these have in common are that they are both examples of what I call epistemic engineering – the creation and manipulation of epistemic objects within a social context.

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