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The International


Volume 3

Technology and Development: A Discourse on Urban Life and


Venkata Krishna Nadella, Saumil Sharma

First published in 2007 in Melbourne, Australia by Common Ground Publishing Pty Ltd

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© 2007 (selection and editorial matter) Common Ground

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ISSN: 1832-3669
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Typeset in Common Ground Markup Language using CGCreator multichannel typesetting system
Technology and Development: A Discourse on Urban Life and
Venkata Krishna Nadella, DA-IICT, Gujarat, India
Saumil Sharma, DA-IICT, Gujarat, India

Abstract: A semi autonomous system based on the opportunity market created by the articulation of risk constitutes the
contemporary urban. Using classifications of space and time the urban can be understood as enclosures dominantly portrayed
as markets of technology running on capitalist ideology. This involved risk enframes opportunities into avenues of techno-
logical advancement in these spaces. The paper includes the study of the impacts of introduction of technologies on a
modern urban life. Technology supports its notion of development by providing a sense of purpose to be found in the end
results of any endeavors in the name of development. The purpose when designed to be development provides enhanced
choices to a human life, deteriorating the virtue of exercising unbiased choice. Most introductions of technology are respons-
ible for abstracting the consciousness of an urban human life with an assumption of the ‘better life’ promised by the implic-
ations of such technologies on urban existence. Technology can be explained as a tool to support the higher standards of
urban belonging but certainly is not sufficient to understand its impacts on the same. The co-existence of urban chaos and
social order, often sustained by implications of technology, induce an ambivalence which can explain the distortions in the
perceptions of development and modernization of our contemporary urban spaces.

Keywords: Urban Spaces, Semi Autonomous Systems, Risk, Development, Modernization, Technology Market, Urban
Chaos, Information, Ambivalence, Industrial Modernity

Introduction introductions in markets of controlled trends of in-

novation and advance.
N AN EFFORT to understand the interactions

I of new technologies and their markets in the

urban spaces of our time, a discourse has been
produced explaining the origins, inter-workings,
and fundamental grounds of sustaining of technology
The Urban Space
The contemporary urban culture has evolved through
the explanations provided by intellectuals of the last
markets in concerned scenarios. A variety of theories century. There have been different influences of
and explanations have been put forward by scholars Marxian and Durkheimian ideas of ‘the urban’ or
since the last century to comprehend and investigate the city. The neo-Marxist writers have extended their
the existence of ‘the urban’. These theoretical inter- ideas to establish the understanding of the urban
pretations of the city or the urban provide with the culture by linking dynamics of the cities with ideas
basic outlines that sum up to create a semi- of space and time. Henri Lefebvre analyzed the
autonomous system capable of self-differentiating nature and workings of space as the set of conditions
itself from its surroundings. In later decades of the shaping and dictating the everyday lives (Orum and
last century the introduction of new orders of percep- Xiangming, 2003). He singled out the significance
tion towards the urban has considerably changed the of 'space’ which creates a channel to view the
outlook towards these spaces. Acceptance and under- workings of human societies, providing imaginative
standing risk as a critical prospect of natural exist- and productive ways of linking the basic urban sur-
ence in today’s world has invariably affected these vival to the operations and development of cities.
perceptions and has given birth to an idea called the Lefebvre examined the city with three key elements
‘risk society’. Categorizing the urban into forms of - spatial practices, representation of spaces, and rep-
risk society is an implicit understanding of the semi- resentational spaces. But the Lefebvre examination
autonomous nature of urban spaces and their risk lacked focus on the importance of connections that
based growth and development. When risk is articu- human beings have with these spaces. Like Lefebvre,
lated into the workings of the urban spaces, techno- Manuel Castles also understood the nature of a city
logy is found to use these articulations as consolid- as urban space based on the underlying framework
ated ideas demanding growth and sophistication in of the Marxist theory of class struggle, the contradic-
the current trends and standards of technology, thus tions of capitalism, and the need for reproduction of
creating an opportunity base for new technological labour to continue the dominance of capitalism as a


VOLUME 3, 2007, ISSN 1832-3669
© Common Ground, Venkata Krishna Nadella, Saumil Sharma, All Rights Reserved, Permissions:

central system of the modern world (Susser, 2002). the idea of a market place further in the discourse.
Castles further incorporated the idea of seeing the But for such a transformation of the city or the urban,
urban as a space for reproduction of labour power there should be a transition in the fundamental nature
or the importance of the nature of consumption by of understanding of the urban and its inner-workings.
the collective social class. Castles brought up the With the introduction of industrial capitalism there
ideas which centralized the importance of techno- was a visible shift in the perception of the urban and
logy, generally relating to capitalism, in creating the its implications on to forming a culture relating to
problematic of the urban. it. It gave the urban space an outlook of institutional
For the last two decades the commentators of and relatively autonomous system, organized around
urban culture have not only considered the population specific objects. The industrial constitution of com-
growth and the working of the human society but modities formed an underlying basic block for the
also the symbolic forms of a city which count for the economic system, the technical and social division
architectural outlook. The symbolism has appeared of labour, the diversification of social and economic
to be encasing the essence of the contemporary pan- institutions over a larger space (Wynne, Lash and
orama which has a controlled domination over the Szerszynski, 1996). This shifting urban ideology was
human consumption patterns depicting the space and based on the subjective presupposition of a theoret-
also the lives of the people living in it. ical space defined by the specificity of its objects.
Two clear distinctions that signify the creation of The social structures were considered as a unity to
urban are - the spatial concentration of the population adhere to the establishments of the pure administra-
on the basis of certain limits of dimension and tion of an internally divided but projected as a
density; and the diffusion of the system of values, classless society and also to disregard the discontinu-
attitudes, and behavior called urban culture. It be- ity and obstruction imposed by its internal rhythm.
comes necessary to understand the structuring and This discontinuity and obstruction would later be
transformation of values to break down the theoret- understood as the consequence of social order forced
ical analysis into a practical synthesis. The relation by a risk based society.
between the productive forces, social class, and cul- The transition from industrial modernity into the
tural forms (including space) can elicit the occupation information age has proved to be the basis of growth
of space by a population of high concentration and and destruction of the urban spaces that exist today.
relatively high density and also of greater functional It brought the focus from ideas of space and workings
and social differentiation, although it characterizes of the society to be diverted on the visual culture and
the idea of ‘the urban' but is insufficient to define it. symbolic articulation of the contemporary cities. The
The existence of a system of distribution and ex- visual culture prevailing in today’s urban spaces has
change can be used as a parameter of defining and been manifestly originated by the dominant present-
differentiating, as the city becomes a geographical ation of advanced capitalistic commerce. Integration
locus in which it establishes the politico-administrat- of visual culture, dominance of commerce institu-
ive superstructure of a society providing a dynamic tions, and transitory aesthetic value towards a world
internal coherence and greater autonomy. The city of ‘goods’ and ‘commodities’ comprise the face of
was dissected into a system of social classes, a contemporary urban development. The loss of in-
political system permitting both the functioning of dustry and the rise of financial capital gave birth to
the social ensemble and the domination of one class, the more attractive forms of urban existence. Tech-
an institutional system of investment in particular nology played a major role as the postmodern society
with regards to culture and technology, a system of was taking shape into its contemporary form. With
external exchange (Loon, 2002). intensified development models in practice technolo-
During the medieval times the political specificity gical developments were made the undivided choice
of the city made it a world in itself and defined its of the social classes that exist in these spaces. Tech-
frontiers as a social system with conflict of classes nology marketing was spread into swelling lucrative
raising urban isolation, with spheres of consumption markets that sustained themselves and grew into
and investment in focus. According to Weber, city larger and larger spaces (Loon, 2002).
is a centre of trade and commerce where the needs The contemporary urban spaces can be understood
of the urban and non-urban population are catered as semi-autonomous systems evolved all through
through the developed economic institutions (Weber, their history where in the last two decades the writers
2001). Weber quotes the urban as the physical loca- have started to integrate the techno-natural existence
tion or representation of the economic institutions with identifying the new urban society. The urban
working today. So, the relationship between the city space as a system is semi-autonomous because the
and its population was material and the nature of desire for an autonomous wholeness is deeply in-
workings was the focus of Weber’s theory. This scribed in the logic of modern being which tends to
theory provided by Weber would be extended into break the bounds of exclusive internal relations to

find external interference as a necessary input. The Risk and Urban Society
divisions of the organized flow of this system can
Risk has always been a subject of concern to human
be underlined as- self sufficient communication net-
existence. The industrial society saw risk as an entity
works; social, economic, and political institutions;
modifying visions of our modernity and produced
self regulatory class arrangement, class struggle of
sufficient accumulation of risk laden activities
the advanced capitalism; and markets running on
(Franklin and Beck, 1998). But this risk was pre-
competition(Susser, 2002). These subsystem entities
sumed to be industrial and was a focus against the
are well supported by technology as the society is
techno-economic advantage and opportunity. In the
turning to be more apprehensive about information.
late 20th century, the articulation of risk went under
So technology becomes the method through which
a drastic change of perception through which risk
different divisions interact with each other and
has evolved into its contemporary meaning.
therefore extends its pervasion into the roots of de-
Today, the significance of risk has transformed
velopment and growth of urban spaces.
from a consequence of collective human activity into
The whole idea of being connected to the world,
a realistic outlook towards the internal and external
the world of the urban, sustains itself on the commu-
dynamics of social change, which open up individual
nication technologies that have been brought to the
and political opportunities. During the industrial
world. Like the internet, the cellular phones, electron-
modernity risk was a prerogative of the political
ic mails, etc. form the backbone of communicative
charge which defined risk as an entity in existence
behavior in social relationships. These communica-
with the institution (Franklin and Beck, 1998). The
tion networks act as the foundation for the different
transformation has brought about the ‘deinstitution-
institutions, the class division, and the contention in
alization of risk’ due to which risk has become an
the market. Also the class division is a necessary
idea of individual security/insecurity through person-
idea for the existence of the urban space as the divi-
al intellection. The step down traversal of risk to-
sion provides the opportunity to link different classes
wards a broader significance among individuals
which complement the rest of the divisions.
comes through the notion of creating a community
A duality of ‘the urban’ existence lies in the
or a world that can be taken for granted, which gen-
foundations of our everyday lives distributed around
erates a sense of conformity towards the intense
the economic, political, and social constructs where
activity of change or a certainty towards the uncer-
the sky scrapers alienate and the city centers animate,
tain. The exposure to the dynamics of such a system,
large public spaces create anonymity and the private
a secured society, created awareness towards the
spaces provide identity, the socio-political regime
unawareness inherent in the system. This realization
creates peace and the city also faces crime. This du-
supported the perception shift of our society towards
ality is an unavoidable characteristic of the new
a consideration for uncertainty in the implications
urban ecology creating spaces for more class accom-
of our social and political existence (Beck, 1992).
modation and thus a feeling of belonging, and also
Risks, as illustrated by Beck and Giddens, are
belonging to nothing. Technology can be the answer
manmade hybrids. ‘Manufactured Uncertainty’ is a
for the ambivalence which is responsible for binding
term given to characterize the risks that are surfaced
the reasonability of urban existence with the ration-
due to the exercise of man’s desire to gain control
ality of social choice. As a result of technological
over the future. As supported by the idea of ‘reflexive
intrusion into ‘the urban’, urban spaces have under-
modernity’ (Beck, 1992), risk appears to have co-
gone a perception shift in the last two decades (Nardi
evolved with the modernity. The modern culture
and O'Day, 1999).
characterizes the control of man over risks where
A shift in the perception of looking at the urban
risk makes the future predictable or atleast promises
as a societal construction projecting scenarios of
to do so by supporting idea of human beings forecast-
choices and their outcomes elevates the urban spaces
ing the future, and therefore, forestalling for any
into a paradigm of risk contemplation. This risk be-
‘bad’ consequential reactions to their actions. In this
havior is inherent in existence in the urban spaces
process, risk is assessed to be an enclosure with
and excludes no dimension of its characterization.
sealed boundaries. But with all efforts to contain and
Risk articulation and assessment as a necessary vis-
avert the risk that is integrated to our existence, risk
ion of urban culture and urban society is described
still escapes the bounds of human intervention.
as a natural relationship based on foundations of
What others see as the development of social or-
creation of opportunity and forecast of possible fu-
der, my argument interprets as a stage of radicalized
modernity. A stage where the dynamics of individu-
alization, globalization and risk undermine modern-
ity and its foundations. Whatever happens, the
modernity gets reflexive, that means concerned with

its unintended consequences, risks and foundations. to create a state of maximum self-interests, which is
(Franklin and Beck, 1998) also defined as the utilitarian selfishness. It’s the
Risk is the modern idea of being. The ‘good’ being superficial understanding of the population which
the correspondence of maximum advantage inher- helps sustain the opportunity market in urban spaces.
ently has classified the choices and their consequence Majority of these opportunity markets are dictated
to be good and bad. The ambivalence prevailing in by the new and latest trends of technological innov-
any classification spawns the unknown. This exclus- ation and development because the root of opportun-
ive categorization of the bad and the unknown gave ity creation lies in the application of technology to
an enhanced relevance to risk in our society (Bau- understand and obviate risks. We will see in the fol-
man, 1998). This raised platform for risk has brought lowing section the role of technology in creating a
the state apparatus into securing and regulating the self sustaining new age opportunity market labeled
urban space by tools of prediction and estimation. It with tags of welfare and social development which
has been evident by the history of risk that the under- is driven by the ‘knowing’ and ‘not knowing’ of risks
standing of risk to create regularity and security al- (Wynne, Lash and Szerszynski, 1996; Loon, 2002).
ways transgresses to become a story of irregularity
and insecurity. So this state authority which include Technology and the Market
and combine politics, ethics, mathematics, mass
media, technologies, cultural definitions and percepts Technology is one of the most complex phenomena
have made indefinite efforts towards creating a place in the world today although the modernist outlook
where risk can be bought and sold in terms of the considers it simplifying life. It is only through history
extent of damage estimation and aversion (Franklin that we can gain an insight into the impact and im-
and Beck, 1998). So, in these urban spaces risk itself plications of technology on culture, which has been
was transformed into a commodity which could be lately known as the technological culture. Techno-
exchanged as a tangible good or an intangible idea logy is playing a role which has varied on different
with a certain interest of human behavior to control scales through factors that one chooses to involve.
the future. In this paper, we intend to discuss technology in the
One of the important factors that risk society sus- light off the urban space and its evolution into a risk
tains itself is that risk is not attributed to an external society. Risk, as we discussed in the last section,
agency and thus remains a part of the autonomous permeates the limits of human bounds and always
character of our urban spaces (Loon, 2002). The creates a ‘future with risk’ when the future is expec-
urban regulatory social and political institutions le- ted to be free from it. Technology insulates the risk
gitimize the science of risk assessment and risk recreation and the autonomy with which risk handle
management as thoroughly modern embracing ideas itself rather than humans handling the risk, for ex-
like ‘complexity theory’, which itself includes unde- ample, the case of exercising control over natural
cidability and unpredictability. Our urban existence calamities using technology. Technology has trans-
is a prevailing risk society which is entailed by the formed itself from being an influence over the society
primarily dominant technological culture, assumed to an access to people. With the advent of informa-
to create and sustain a relatively stable state for sur- tion revolution, the technological intrusion and pro-
vival. But risks are not a responsibility that can be liferation into almost all fields of an urban life have
attributed to any specific entity. They are no one’s become unavoidable. Technology has evolved to
responsibility. Therefore, it becomes a paradox for dominate human thought and choice. There are two
the technological innovation providing solutions, at major factors responsible for this. First, the magical
an ever increasing pace, to solve a problem with its ability of technology to paint its cause and effect on
root unknown. Risk has been an instrument in the the world which creates an awed welcome by social
advance of techno cultural systems of science, gov- constructions like the risk based contemporary urban
ernance, mediation, commerce, law and the military, spaces. Second being, a more pragmatic one, the
and also endangered the gradual erosion. The risks technology providing human beings the things they
endangered by techno-science constantly spill over value and technology having the only capability to
and flow into other social institutions. The techno provide them (Wynne, Lash and Szerszynski, 1996).
cultural enframing of risks transforms risk into op- Consider all the converted reality which exists in the
portunities. All opportunities are presented as digital paradigm based on the objectification and
benchmarks for attaining a ‘better life’ offered by tagging of the world and its entities into a database
the urban space. These opportunities are valued in a which can be referred in the future. By presenting
market where valuations of certain intangible and such focus it’s not an intention to choose a techno-
tangible assets, marked as requisites of the better phile or a dystopian view. This paper asks the follow-
life, are performed using parameters of benefit and ing question implicitly in a previous section. What
welfare, where risk indeed is a product of the desire is to be sustained in the urban space, and how? Well,

this answer requires some explanation based on the The rationality used by the markets of technology
opportunity market or rather a market of technology. and their designers is the reasonability of the urban
Market of technology is an opportunity market life and its existence. Rationality is constituted by
which is more or less based on the methods of late reason, common sense, and conventional morality,
advanced capitalist ideology to propagate its ideas supported by actions that follow (Beck and Beck-
of benefit through maximizing opportunity. This Grensheim 2002). The focus has always been on the
market is generated by the interest of the urban centrality of reason in an urban space. For everything
population, through the answers they seek towards that exists in this space is undoubtedly reasonable,
various ecological virtues involving human beings. else it creates a condition of self-elimination from
The opportunity is seen as a mode of altering the this space. The designer uses the notions of rational-
future to create more secure and viable circumstances ity to create structurally induced needs (Winner,
providing the necessary routes of development for 1977). The structural composition of these needs is
human beings and their quest for the ‘better life’, presupposed by the market and thus is presented to
assumed to be promised by their existence in an the humans prevailing in this space as to transform
urban space. But technology has its own realm of these needs into desires.
existence. The technology market has a consumer The rationality in the market can be attributed to
base which creates the ever expanding need for the ‘faith in reason’ and ‘truth in reason’. Faith in reason
development of technology for improving living is the basis of an unchallenged acceptance of techno-
standards, also rephrased as the notion of moderniz- logy as the way of living in the urban spaces. The
ation. This market has certain entities which play the faith is built upon the frameworks of scientific proofs
defining role of holding the market together and also and research outcomes which also are an indirect
create this space called the ‘technology market’. part of this market dictation. Technology being an
Technology Market is based on a very careful mix introduction of scientific methodology has leverage
of inevitable choices, opportunity generated through because scientific expertise does not tolerate dissent
risk, and a desensitized consumer base. The designer, and stays at a clear advantage because of the alleged
a role played by the joint collaboration of the innov- truth that comes directly from the expeditions of
ators and marketers of technology, is responsible to reality via measurements and instruments of percep-
create, sustain, and expand the consumer base for tion. Truth in reason has been articulated as an ap-
this market. The designer manipulates the choices proximation of the thought of the other and its dis-
of the consumers to focus towards a point of deliber- tinction with the thought of self (Loon, 2002). In the
ate inevitability of a particular choice (Nye, 2006). information age, where information is disembodied,
Technology in the everydayness of the urban life (information may exist without any context) the
is considered as a tool working in hand with the hu- ambivalence characterizes the incapability of central-
man existence. The market thrives on the causality ity of reason and formation of rationality in the con-
of the introduction and diffusion of each technology temporary urban spaces to sufficiently provide an
in the society. Problems of one technology are to be understanding of technologies.
solved by more technologies, creating expanding A psychoanalytic research shows that human be-
loops of similar phenomenon. This propagation runs ings perceive only what they are ready to see. This
as a rationale for the sustaining the productivity of phenomenon is called unattentional blindness, where
each entity in the technology market. Reducing the the notion of a natural perception is devastated
common urban thought to a concentrated mass of through the detailed ecological study (Nardi and
similar understanding of the technologies in terms O'Day, 1999). So, the market of technology sustains
of utility, usability, skill, and learning is the whole due to two important factors. First, the realization of
idea of technology as a tool. In our view this is not technology as a market by the designers of the tech-
the right method to understand technology because nology world. Second, the unpreparedness of the
the new technologies tend to be mystifying as there urban population to look at technology as a market
is not a certain definition of their use and work. The rather than seeing it as a supplement to the intensified
idea of utilitarian selfishness, or the will to survive visual representation of the urban space. The notable
being comparative to the will of self-preservation change towards the technological awareness and
has been under subtle usage by the designers of the perception since the advent of the information age
markets of technology who put their efforts through has produced a proliferation of technological advance-
pressing technology onto converting human lives ment. With modernization as the key to the urban,
into processes involving tasks. They produce unques- the developments in technology have seeped in
tionable rationality to the technology and its use, through different classes of the society (Wynne, Lash
both defined by them, to create the sense of enhanced and Szerszynski, 1996). Every technology has its
choice but in the end being tone down to a single own interpretation, which in the world today has
predefined and presupposed dictation of the designer. become very individualistic to a great extent. This

transition from a societal reflection of technology to into various interpretations of development and
the enormously varied individual reflections has been modernization in the popular visual culture which
a result of instances of upgraded urban consumption creates a platform for the related technology to fol-
of technology in the form of tools and techniques low. In essence it is the focus on commoditization
they are represented. Technology has provided an of entities in this market. Abstraction at the level of
incoherent assimilation of each new introduction into reasoning and rationalizing the everydayness of
the society which sometimes surfaces to add to the urban survival, in terms of the commoditization and
visual representations of the urban space. Incoher- objectification, is attributed to the market parameters
ence in interpretations of technology regularly sur- of profit and opportunity maximization, which clearly
face in our society as instances of confusion. The run at the level of human thought and choice. The
ambivalence produced by these varied interpretations introduction of technologies into our present urban
could be attributed to the existence of urban chaos spaces has been based on manipulatively forced in-
(Bauman, 2003). terests of the innovators and marketers of technology.
Often, free choices to be exercised by consumers are
presupposed by designers of a particular technology
rather than anticipating the actual free choice of the
Using classification of space and time, the urban consumers for innovations in technology.
spaces constitute of a capitalist idea of an opportunity A future study in the field of social implications
based marketplace with foundations of sociopolitical of innovation and development of technology with
administrative structures, communication backbone perspectives that integrate the free choice exercised
and symbolic architecture. In the contemporary vis- by the population of such spaces is unavoidable.
ion of urban spaces, there stands a clear dominance Also, the vision of technological change and risk
of visual culture which is supported by the technolo- aversion has to be studied under the light of purpose
gical dependence of existence in this space. This and relevance of certain technological advancements
technological dependence is also a result of an evol- pertaining to avoiding risks to seek a safer and im-
utionary change in purpose, thought, and choice of proved life. Risks have to be seen as awareness to-
urban population with the advent of information so- wards an unknown outcome of any given circum-
ciety. The conformity towards an uncertain behavior stance and activity, where the awareness of the un-
in every existence in an urban space is the change known is the result of the assessment of risk rather
that has been brought by better understanding of risk than enframing new opportunities for creating value
along with notions of risk aversion and risk manage- for every risk that comes to light.
ment. Today risks are seen as opportunities to ad-
vance technology to prevent a particular possible
future, inturn creating newer and newer risks.
When technologies are introduced with visions of We wish to thank Professor Aditi Nath Sarkar for
development and modernization, an alternate ra- his criticism and valuable comments during the initial
tionale can be produced from the nature and work- stages of this paper and for his ingenious inputs
ings of this market. With the manufacturing of tech- throughout the rest. We would also like to thank the
nology, the designers also manufacture the needs for anonymous referees for their comments that helped
most technologies. These needs are first transformed make the final manuscript better readable.

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About the Authors

Venkata Krishna Nadella
DA-IICT, India

Saumil Sharma
DA-IICT, India

Bill Cope, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Mary Kalantzis, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Amareswar Galla, Australian National University, Australia.


Darin Barney, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Marcus Breen, Northeastern University, Boston, USA.
G.K. Chadha, Jawahrlal Nehru University, India.
Simon Cooper, Monash University, Australia.
Bill Dutton, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
David Hakken, University of Indiana, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.
Michele Knobel, Montclair State University, New Jersey, USA.
Jeannette Shaffer, Edtech Leaders, VA, USA.
Ravi S. Sharma, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Robin Stanton, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
Telle Whitney, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.
Monica Zuccarini, Università di Napoli, Italy.

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