Digital Collaboration Across the Digital Divide

This week in South African History in the Digital Age, we discussed issues inherent with using digital sources and the continuing digital divide between the “West” and the rest, with a particular focus on South Africa.  This made me think about what this kind of divide can mean in terms of knowledge production and digital collaboration.  I have written about how useful digital collaboration has been in my research, reflecting on how digital affirmation from colleagues in South Africa signaled to me that I was beginning to get a grasp on the inner-workings of South African football fandom (originally broached in this post for Football Is Coming Home).

In more recent weeks, I have been using digital collaboration as a way to build my repository on the 2010 World Cup.  While there are numerous online news sources and published scholarship that I have been able to pull from for Imbiza, what I found myself lacking was the personal side of the 2010 World Cup.  And it was a personal experience for millions of people, not only in South Africa, but also for those spectators who tuned in around the world.  So I found myself reaching out via social media, especially Twitter, to find scholars who would be willing to share their materials and their experiences with me.

And people responded!  I have been quite lucky, given my involvement with the Football Scholars Forum, to build a fairly robust cohort of fútbol scholars around the world that I maintain contact with over Twitter.  This online community, spearheaded by my graduate adviser Peter Alegi, re-tweeted my calls for proposals, submitted their own materials, and helped me find new and exciting resources (See the Storify of these conversations here).

For example, using Twitter, Duane Jethro, a scholar living in Cape Town, and I connected, fostering discussion about the project and resulting in him sharing a large selection of newspaper clippings on the tournament.  Similarly, I was able to connect with Davy Patrick Lane, who has allowed me to use all of his materials from his blog.  Chris Bolsmann has allowed me to use his massive collection of high-quality photographs.  Finally, Marc Fletcher, a scholar living in Johannesburg, like Lane, has given me access to the materials on his blog, as well as offered to provide with some advice as I proceed.

So when I think about this phenomenon in terms of our readings last week and the existence of a kind of digital dependency of the Global South on the Global North, my experience of using digital collaboration for Imbiza turns this notion on its head; I am the one who has found myself dependent on South Africans (and non-South Africans alike, but I’m attempting to make a point here) for providing me with both insights and materials.  As critical as it is for scholars to consider the technological and economic inequities inherent in this digital divide, we should also be reaching out to use these forums as a means by which to connect and collect, building relationships that can result in the collection of materials that are beneficial for all.  And by developing these relationships and publicizing the importance of digital technologies for scholarship, we can stand as activists for greater technological equity across these divides at the appropriate moments, drawing on our own experiences as testament to their value.

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