by DAVID NEMER, Indiana University
Favelas are the urban slums of Brazil. Slums—the image is already filling your mind—are marginalized areas of society without state investments, without basic needs: infrastructure, sanitation, road systems, health, education. They also lack access to information and communication technologies (ICTs). Why, then, are they important places for studying “advanced” topics like technology, knowledge economy, and sociotechnical practices? What could they have to teach us?
Outsiders often see favela residents as “untamed” and digitally illiterate. But during eight months of ethnographic fieldwork in the slums of Brazil, I saw people challenging the notion of “resource poverty,” appropriating ICTs and skill building in innovative ways. Favela residents critically engage with artifacts designed for advanced industrialized contexts and have to develop their skills of bricolage to survive in a broken environment where repair was a constant socio-technical practice. Favelas are considered...