Digital Care, Justice, and Colonialism

by | Jun 16, 2020 | ICT4D |

The words we choose to use matter. People had strong reactions when I used phrases like ‘from compliance to care‘ and ‘threatening humanitarian principles‘. The words touched a nerve in people. A negative nerve. So perhaps I should have used other words and perhaps I need to be more careful with my word choice.

But let’s think about a couple words for a moment. ‘Care’ tends to be associated with kindness, gentleness. But our associations might change when we add ‘home’ to it. Unfortunately, ‘care homes’ don’t always have kindness and gentleness associated with them. On the whole ‘care’ has more positive associations.

Justice conjures up a completely different reaction in us. There is something in ‘justice’ that brings out a dimension of power. Something about injustice, inequality, but also fairness, rules, order, rightness.

Both ‘care’ and ‘justice’ are also relational words. Again ‘care’ tends to be coming from a positive intent, while ‘justice’ tends to infer something needs correcting. But ‘care’ can also have ‘power’ dimensions with it as we do something to another. The intent is positive – ‘we hold the data of the beneficiaries as a ‘care action” but then when we don’t allow them access to the data do we become unjust? The decision to ‘hold the data on behalf of another’ – who is making it? Are we or are the people about whom the data is? Or is it a joint decision? And when we decide not to allow the beneficiary access to the data it ultimately becomes a power and control decision. Some may use the word ‘colonialism’, some ‘abuse’, and many other words.

And yes, some would say ‘we’d like to share the data with them, but the ‘system’ or software does not allow us to.’ That is a poor excuse. At best it is a bad design decision, but if you want to share the data with them, then choose a different system. Make it a requirement.

If we frame our questions to be what does data justice, technology justice, or digital justice look like, how does that change the perspective? Does it provide insights we didn’t have before?

Photo by Markus Spiske


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