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Wordsmithing “appropriation” May 31, 2007

Posted by François in theory, writing process.

In our draft paper (pp. 23-35), we locate appropriation practices within a 3-step technology cycle (adoption / appropriation / re-configuration), then distinguish three appropriation practices: baroque layering, creolization, and cannibalism. We are not completely happy with these labels, for two reasons. First, re-configuration is confusing because it could also describe practices like creolization and cannibalism. Second, the labels conceal who does what: in our model, users appropriate and suppliers re-configure, but that’s not directly obvious. So, we went back to the drawing board and came up with this new version of the 3-step cycle.

We hope to convey four key ideas:

1) This cycle describes the iterative evolution of a technology. Suppliers roll-out a technology and, once they adopt it, users quickly begin to appropriate it – they modify it to make it their own. Suppliers then strive to re-claim control, either to take advantage of the innovations users have come up with, or to stop them. In the process, they produce a new technology, which users can then further adopt (or reject), then appropriate, etc. Technology evolution is the cumulative outcome of successive cycles.

2) Technology always entails an implied power structure – a set of built-in assumptions about who can use it, at what cost, under what conditions, for what purpose, and with what consequences. At their core, appropriation practices are the strategies users pursue to re-negotiate this power structure.

3) We identify three appropriation practices that constitute three increasingly conflictive re-negotiation strategies. With baroque infiltration, users personalize technology along options set out by technology suppliers – their practice is congruent with the supplier’s intentions and business plan. By contrast, when users creolize technology, they venture beyond the supplier’s intentions to ‘re-mix’ technological components in unintended ways, with results that may or may not match the supplier’s interests. At the extreme, users who cannibalize technology intend to confront suppliers – their re-invention clashes with the supplier’s interests. All three strategies, we argue, are deeply creative practices that result in innovation.

4) In reaction to users’ appropriation practices, suppliers will attempt to re-claim control over their technology. Mirroring user appropriation strategies, we identify three reclamation practices that are increasingly conflictive. At their most conciliatory, suppliers co-opt user-generated innovation and modify their technology to embrace new users practices. Then again, they may chose instead to compromise and accommodate only some portion of user-generated innovations. At the extreme, they may decide to close the door and block the innovations users have produced.

A few problems remain with these new labels: “personalize” isn’t great (but unfortunately, “baroquize” is not a word…), and “compromise” isn’t that good either to describe the suppliers’ middle-ground approach to reclamation. Suggestions welcome.


Technology appropriation in a distant mirror May 14, 2007

Posted by François in baroque, cannibalism, creolization, theory.

The ideas we plan to explore in this blog are laid out in “Mobile technology appropriation in a distant mirror: baroque infiltration, creolization and cannibalism”, by François Bar, Francis Pisani and Matthew Weber (April 07) [PDF – draft]. The paper was presented on April 12th as part of the Annenberg Center’s DIY speaker series, and on April 20th in Buenos Aires at the Seminario sobre Desarrollo Económico, Desarrollo Social y Comunicaciones Móviles en América Latina hosted by Fundación Telefónica [PPT slides]. Howard Rheingold covered the Annenberg Center presentation in the DIY blog: part1 and part2.

We welcome comments on this draft.