Indigenous communities in Bolivia (photo courtesy of - http://rising.globalvoicesonline.org/blog/2009/03/29/voces-bolivianas-augmenting-digital-literacy-in-bolivia/)

Indigenous communities in Bolivia (photo courtesy of – http://rising.globalvoicesonline.org/blog/2009/03/29/voces-bolivianas-augmenting-digital-literacy-in-bolivia/

Voces Bolivianas (Bolivian Voices) project teaches citizens’ media skills to underrepresented communities in Bolivia.  This raises many questions about how the internet can be used to support development and decrease economic disparities within Bolivia and with the rest of the world.

Bolivian Voices is a participatory citizen’s media project that promotes the use of ICT (Internet and Communication Technologies) to allow Bolivians to share their stories about their communities and thus decide how they are represented. The projects holds workshops to promote the use of participatory media tools such as blogging, digital photography, podcasting and videos in order to create their own content.

They emphasize that the web is for everyone as ordinary Bolivians then become creators of content, rather than only consumers. In this way they are breaking away from western modernist discourse where communities are seen as receivers and communication is very much top down and one way. Everyday Bolivianos now have the opportunity to become part of the ‘global conversation’ and there is a network of national bloggers. Examples of some of these blogs can be found here.

 

This month, the project also helps bolivians living in Argentina to reconnect with their country and become part of an imagined community. Eduardo Avilo is the founder of the Voces Bolivianas project and his blog Barrio Flores discusses a number of issues that Bolivians face.

Bolivian Voices is one of several national projects participating in Rising Voices, which works to bring new voices into global conversations through resources and training. In this way publicity and a voice is given to places and people that other media often ignore. One of their main aims is to empower under-represented communities to make their voices heard online and cultivate a network of citizen media activists.

 

It also brings new languages to the web and counters the traditional American domination of the world wide web. Some have argued that the internet is merely another tool of Western cultural imperialism. However others stipulate that cultural imperialism on the Internet can be overcome to prevent cultural homogenisation in the world. The internet promotes non-English culture to a world-wide audience through cyberspace; anyone can create a website or blog and promote their culture easily and much more cheaply than other media. The Bolivianos have few other ways of promoting their culture as despite what the government says the media is heavily censored in the country. 

This project feeds into a complex theoretical debate surrounding the internet.

This project counters the ethnocentric views of western development discourse. It also encourages active participation of people at grassroots by involving local people in decision making for the future and greater self-reliance in development using local skills and knowledge. Richardson (1998) outlines five ways that the internet can support third world development. Research by Martín-Barbero (2006) on Latin American communication research argues that communication, namely through the ICTs, has been ‘transformed into a highly effective mechanism for the insertion of all cultures – whether ethnic, national or local – into the sphere of the market.’

 

However, academics have long highlighted the problems caused by this increasing digital divide. Castells (1997) argues that there is an increasing digital divide where there is a clear divide between those with access to cyber space and those without. He defines this as the network society where a global network of information and power transcends geographic space and time. He predicts that those without access to cyber space will become a ‘fourth world’ and identifies South America as one of these areas. Voces Bolivianos aims to counter this ‘fourth world’ discuss for participatory methods. However there are a series of problems.

 

Whilst Heeks (1999) outlines the constraints in the use of ICT based information in the developed world. One of the most challenging obstacles, amongst many, to effectively training new communities how to take advantage of citizen media tools like blogs, podcasts, and online video is the lack of documentation in languages other than English.

 

Projects such as these are an attempt to empower under-represented voices and introduce them into the global conversation. See here for an update on the progress of the project. However many of the techniques are still rooted in a modernist and imperialist theoretical framework. People in the third world need to take control of their own ICT infrastructure and resources rather then relying on intermediaries, such as NGOs or development groups, if they are ever to have a truly representative and powerful voice.

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