Material Ecosystems: Theorizing (Digital) Technologies in Socioeconomic Development

Jenna Burrell


This article presents a material ecosystemic approach as a theoretical grounding for understanding digital technologies as potential catalysts of socioeconomic development. Through such an approach, talk of “technology” is replaced by talk of the “material.” Material is understood as inclusive of the human-made as well as the natural, of humanrelationships, human bodies, and words spoken. And the social is always necessarily materialized. These elements provide some clues as to how to move toward an improved ethic of design. The case of mobile phone use for financial practices among low- and lower-middle-income urban Ugandans is offered as a substantive case. The particular assumptions of modernization underlying calls for “financial inclusion” and the distinction between informal and formal are reconsidered through the lens of material ecosystemic analysis.

Full Text: