"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

A Glimpse into my Academic Life

I’ve been really busy as of late, too busy even to keep up on my blog. I find myself always writing here. New ideas are everywhere.

I just finished my last major set of papers a week ago. Ideas come at me from strange places, especially as I have several news feeds on my twitter account. When I was writing my papers, there was a provocative piece in the Guardian Development blog asking if Facebook can keep people poor. The article is certainly intriguing. I embedded the concept in a stronger framing that our culture creates the things we aspire to.

I’ve excerpted my paper below. I welcome your thoughts!

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Empowering aspirations

The relational dimensions of a standard of living can shift aspirations as the previously poor exit poverty.  Intrinsically, people can understand their socioeconomic status only in comparison to others they know.  As globalization continues, more people encounter visions of middle-class life in developed countries.  These visions travel across many diverse networks.

Development initiatives improve access to information.  Unintentionally, these initiatives may increase aspirations amongst the poor.  For example, the e-Chopal initiative sought to improve the profitability of soya (Prahalad, 2009).  Farmers check essential information like weather and local crop prices at various purchasing centers online.  However, villagers use the computer in a myriad of ways.  They review the commodity prices in Chicago, search for information that improves the marketability of diverse crops, print children’s report cards, and follow cricket.

Companies connect their marketing to cultural aspirations.  Prahalad (2009) reports that even the poorest consumers have brand recognition, desire considerable value for money, and aim to improve their standard of living.  In Brazil, Casas Bahia serves customers at the lowest income levels, providing these customers with the essentials of life.  These stores carry top brands such as Sony, Toshiba and Whirlpool.  Furthermore, companies desire brand recognition.  Coca-Cola deploys considerable resources to create culturally relevant messages that when you open their sodas, you “open happiness” (Gates, 2010).  Similar aspirational messages guide and direct branded marketing of essential staples such as soap and salt (Prahalad, 2009).  Additionally, as companies become more creative about employing local people to champion certain brands, more people receive these messages.

Additionally, broader forms of cultural communication can elevate aspirations (Appadurai, 2004).  If people respond positively to televised marketing messages, then these people watch various television programs.  Television shows reflect a broader cultural forum.  People in lower social classes may regularly watch programs about more elite persons against a range of cultural backdrops. Television provides a window unto the world beyond one’s personal experience and may lead viewers to consider alternative actions.  Furthermore, the availability of different networks allows users to select programs that better reflect their personal realities.  The images on television vary significantly that Priyadarshani and Afroz Rahim (2010) propose a hypothesis that watching television may serve as a previously undiscovered source of empowerment.

Various forms of media expand people’s accessibility to information. Increasingly, advances in communications technologies allow the previously disenfranchised to participate more in constructing information.  Indonesia represents one of the world’s largest users of Twitter (Doherty, 2010).  Twitter’s reliance on SMS technologies makes it an accessible form of social media, particularly in areas with a reasonable literacy rate.  Furthermore, as middle-income countries pursue programs to reduce the digital divide, more people in countries like the Philippines, Peru, and Senegal create Facebook accounts (Glennie, 2011).  Because Facebook requires a computer with internet access, people must surmount a larger technical barrier to gain access to the site’s social network.  Like Twitter and Facebook, other sharing sites create a forum for people in developing countries to interact with people in developed countries.  Recently, a grassroots Indian organization used YouTube to counter to a documentary produced by a UK filmmaker regarding Indian sex work (Mansoor, 2010).  While the upper classes in developing countries have significantly greater access to these communication networks, these communication networks nonetheless connect people across the world.

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If anyone wants to know more concretely where these references come from, you can ask in the comments!

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