Tag: Royal Holloway

Starting my fieldwork

I had to hold off on this blog for a little while as I awaited feedback and had all my risk assessments and ethics documentation signed off. This has finally happened and I am now into the research phase of my project.  This means that a number of things are now set in stone and this includes:

The Research Questions

The main question that my project intends to answer is from a Critical Race Theory perspective, what role if any, Black Twitter plays in the construction and performance of identity and representation among Black London-based non-African American Twitter user?

I am specifically interested in finding out the following

  • How do the research participants define Black Twitter?
  • How do the research participants engage (if at all) with Black Twitter?
  • In what other ways do the research participants perform and construct their identity on Twitter

 The research process

I will be conducting face-to-face interviews with 30 or so individuals between now and 11th July 2014.  I will also be undertaking a digital ethnographical study of participant tweets and twitter biographies.

The participants

I am interested in working with individuals who meet all of the following criteria

  • Self-identify as Black in accordance with the classification provided by the UK 2011 Census.  This classification includes those who self-identify as “Black/African/Caribbean/Black British or Any other Black/African/Caribbean background” (ONS, 2011).
Census 2011 Q16 option D
Research will study participants who would select Census 2011 Q.16 Option D
  • Reside in one of the 33 Boroughs of London
  • Have a personal Twitter account registered on or before 1st May 2013
  • Maintain an active presence of twitter as evidenced by volume of tweets/recent tweets

And if possible:

I am very excited about this stage and I can’t wait to start learning more about race, Twitter and identity. If you are interested in taking part and/or know anyone who would be interested in taking part then please either leave a comment below (be sure include your email) or drop me an email.

Black Twitter: My research questions and a working title

My dissertation proposal has finally been submitted, supervisor and advisor  allocated and now just waiting for feedback – so of course I expect some of the things I post below to change but so far this is what I am working with.

My working title is “Black Twitter” – A Critical Race Approach to Exploring Race and Racism Online.

My questions/objectives are:

  1. Why Black Twitter/Where is White Twitter?:  By framing Twitter as a racialised/White place I am interested in the the origin, evolution of Black Twitter and what its continued use as a marker of an online racialised space, especially given the ‘absence’ of a named “White Twitter”,  reveals about race and racism online.
  2. Black Twitter Membership: Unlike other social networking sites where one’s personal profile is the focus of interaction – on Twitter it is one’s tweets (i.e. the content of their Twitter message) that is central to the interaction.  In essence what is said, and possibly even how it is said on Twitter is (supposedly) considered more important than who said it.  I want to understand how the relationship between the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ of tweets impacts Black Twitter inclusion and exclusion.  Is every black person on Twitter a member of Black Twitter by virtue of being black and on Twitter? Or is Black Twitter only for those who Tweet using ‘Black Tags’, and if so can a White person tweet within the space of Black Twitter?
  3. Universal Notion of Blackness? Given the global nature of  Twitter and the fact that the term Black exists both as a racial descriptor and a political term; I want to explore the perspectives of non-African-American Black Twitter users on Black Twitter.

And my theoretical framework, is of course Critical Race Theory (CRT) – especially three of CRT’s key elements: critiquing the notion of colour-blindness, essentialism, and counter-storytelling.

Methodology:  I am certainly a more qualitative than quantitative person and while I am not 100% of my methodology I would like to conduct in-depth twitter users who self identify as African, African-American, Black-African, Black-British, or Black-Caribbean.  There will also be Twitter analysis,  tracking trending topics and hashtags and possibly even some statistics.

Who knows where the feedback I receive will take me…but that is where I am at right now.

Focusing my MSc research: Race, Racism and Black Twitter?

When I started this blog it seemed like the dissertation planning process was years away.  Now I am a month away from submitting my first proposal.  “Just” 1,000 words and a brief outline of what I intend to research and why I want to research it.  I no longer have the luxury of focusing on three very broad topics: race, technology and development.  I have to narrow this down to something that can be researched in a few months and converted into a 12,000 – 15,000 dissertation.  This is also means that I can’t afford to simply post links to articles, journals etc without engaging with the material – something I was reluctant to do a few months ago because I felt that my ideas still needed some refining.  Well, the time has come for me to do more than just read and focus my research around a topic or (at this stage) themes that I can transform into a dissertation proposal.

This process is proving harder than I thought.  As the mind map below illustrates I had (and still have) loads of ideas/potential research areas floating about in my mind

Mind Map
Somewhere in this jumble of words a dissertation question shall emerge

From the very start I knew I was interested in race and I wanted to use Critical Race Theory as a framework.  Sometime in the summer I read  Prof. Jessie Daniel’s paper on Race, Racism and Internet Studies and there two things in her review that stood out for me:


There are interesting conversations about race happening on Twitter (e.g., sometimes following hashtags such as #blacktwitter and #browntwitterbird). To date, there is no research in the peer-reviewed literature about race, racism and Twitter and this will surely change soon (Daniels, 2012 p.171)

and this:

Even more unusual is any recognition of racism on the Internet and this is connected, I argue, to the theoretical weakness of the prevailing racial formation theory in Internet studies (Daniels, 2012 p 172)
Daniel’s not only identifies an under-researched area of Internet Studies but also suggests that perhaps an alternative theoretical framework be used to improve understanding on race/racism and Internet Studies.
 I had already given some thought on how Critical Race Theory could work as a  potential theoretical approach but Daniel’s paper really got me thinking more about Twitter and specifically Black Twitter.   It is still early days in the process and as the mind map illustrates – those items in green; Internet Studies, Race, Twitter, Black Twitter, Critical Race Theory; are the sort of broad areas of interest to me but I am certainly becoming more focused in my reading and questioning.
One area that I think I would like to explore is the potentially US-centric nature of the term Black Twitter and how it impacts non-American black twitter users. No doubt there will be other areas of interest and I will certainly be using this blog to examine these other areas.  I anticipate that as a result of this (slightly) more focused approach, this blog will become less about general ICT4D and race topics and more about the construction and  performance of blackness in the Twitterverse.
Daniels, J. 2013.  “Race, Racism & Internet Studies: A Review and Critique” New Media & Society. Special issue“Internet Studies: The State of An Emerging Field,” Charles Ess and William Dutton, Editors. (Published Online ahead of Print. doi: 1461444812462849)

Book Review: Race, Racism and Development – Interrogating History, Discourse and Practice

Image of Cover of Race, Racism and Development book
Race, Racism and Development by Kalpana Wilson

Wilson, K. 2012: Race, Racism and Development – Interrogating History, Discourse and Practice. London: Zed Books. 296pp.  £19.99 paper.  ISBN: 978 1 848 135123 

Race and development are, when considered separately, complex and contentious concepts. Each has been and continues to be discussed, written about and re-defined extensively from a range of both complimentary and contradictory perspectives, theories and frameworks. They both, explicitly at least, occupy separate discursive, theoretical and practical spaces. Kalpana Wilson’s Race, Racism and Development – Interrogating History, Discourse and Practice is the first of its kind to extensively and critically explore the relationship between the two ideas.

Prior to Wilson’s book there have been very few attempts to conceptualise race within the context of development. In 2002 Third World Quarterly  published an article by Sarah White entitled Thinking Race, Thinking Development that sought to “challenge the dominant ‘colour-blind’ stance of development” (White, 2002, p. 407).  For a brief period of time between then and 2006 when a number of articles addressing the same topic appeared in a special edition of Progress in Development Studies it appeared that White’s challenge was gaining momentum. However, this was short lived and the relationship between race and development has received little attention since then. This book is in many ways a body of work written in response to and as a result of the silence on race in development.  If, as White states, that “talking about race in development is like breaking a taboo” (White, 2002, p. 407) then Wilson’s suggestion that the “book should be read as a provocation to further engagement, exploration and elaboration in relation to its themes” (p. 243), is both an attempt at breaking this taboo and call to action for others in the field to do the same.

The two part title of the book (i.e. the first part being ‘Race, Racism and Development’ and the second being its subtitle, Interrogating History, Discourse and Practice) is fitting given that Wilson’s introductory section sets out to introduce and define race, racism and development before moving on to eight chapters that serve as the interrogation.  Two things in particular make Wilson’s introductory section easy to read, even for those who may not be familiar with concepts of race and racism and how it relates to development.  Firstly she begins with a topic that many will be familiar with; the Kony 2012 social media campaign and through this accessible example Wilson is able to demonstrate the construction of race and racial hierarchy and how these interact with development. Secondly, Wilson, an LSE Fellow in Gender Theory, Globalisation and Development has taught the Race, Ethnicity and Development module of Birbeck’s MSc in Development Studies since 2004 and her publications give an indication of her interdisciplinary interests.  This means that despite the book’s recent publication date Wilson has approached the subject with a great deal of knowledge and a long standing history of teaching, exploring and engaging with the issues of race and development.  The evidence of this is in her ability to incorporate and critique a diverse range of sources including Darwin, W.E.B Dubios, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Amartya Sen, Arturo Escobar, Thomas Malthus; Social and Cultural Theorists Paul Gilroy and Stuart Hall; African-American feminist bell hooks; and a large number of Diasporan/Global South writers and academics. All of this information is presented in an easy to understand way ensuring that those who are new to any of the concepts are able to gain a sufficient level of understanding of the concept. This makes it a lot easier to engage with the more critical aspects of the book that appear in later chapters.

The foundation of Wilson’s argument builds on views expressed by previous writers on this topic i.e. that race is connected to development. By situating the nexus of this relationship within a specific timeframe; the late eighteenth century, which pre-dates modern development theory and presenting the two concepts as inextricably linked, the book lives up to its claim of wanting to provoke further discussion and engagement.  Whilst there is a sequential and chronological order to the chapter progression within the book, Wilson’s arguments are presented through three key themes which offers the possibility of reading through the book chapters thematically rather than sequentially.  However, this approach is only slightly hampered by the chapter titles which at times make it difficult to determine the thematic links but is mitigated by the introduction which does a good job of highlighting themes within chapters.

Chapter 1 and Chapter 6 both explore the race, racism and development relationship through what Wilson terms her second analytical framework; “the materiality of race” and its relation to “global structures of capital and the process of accumulation” (p. 5).  Of particular interest to academics and students who are interested in development history and its links to colonisation; Chapter 1 successfully overcomes the potential pitfalls of attempting to take on a topic too broad to be contained in one chapter by framing it through the lens of 1857 British colonial rule of India.  In this chapter Wilson makes a strong argument in support of her claim that it was as a result of the combination of the emergence of racial difference and hierarchy influenced by social Darwinism and the violent response by the British to the 1857 uprisings in India that led to the racialisation of people and the structures of capital. Relying on modern day phrases such as the ‘War on Terror’ to describe this historical event allows the reader to transition between this first chapter and the sixth that is dedicated to imperialism and racialised bodies in the 21st century.

Development continues to be caught in a theory/practice binary and Wilson acknowledges this almost as part of the reason why, in her view, she considers the book’s structure unconventional. However, because of her well defined analytical framework she is able to navigate through this dichotomy in a way that benefits the reader. For instance Chapters, 3, 4, 5 and 8, focus on race and racism within development policy with particular emphasis on population control (Chapter 3,); HIV/AIDs policy (Chapter 4); good governance and corruption (Chapter 5) and DfID’s neo-liberalism (Chapter 8) work very well as standalone sections for development practitioners who may not wish to read the more theoretical chapters of the book. Equally however these chapters provide ‘real world’, examples that would be of benefit to any degree course that seeks to demonstrate how race and racism has influenced development policy.

Given the dearth of literature on race and development it is all too easy to label Wilson’s book as groundbreaking simply because she has attempted to do what no-one else has done; i.e. to critically explore the relationship between these two challenging concepts. However, what marks this book as much needed addition to development research and practice can be  found in Chapter 2 and 7, both of which highlight Wilson’s second thematic framework;  “the tendency of discourses of development to appropriate and incorporate critical approaches” (p. 5).  Wilson challenges current thinking in relation to development buzzwords and catchphrases such as ‘agency’ and ‘gender and development’ and through exploration of “positive” representations of development “beneficiaries” by NGOs argues that both of these terms contribute to the racialisation and othering of women in the Global South. Whilst this line of thinking is not entirely new to the field, having first been raised by White (2006); Wilson expands on this theme and brings more examples to the debate. Likewise post-development thinking and other critical approaches to development are presented as either not having done enough to raise the level debate on racism within development or in part contributing to the existing racial hierarchy (Chapter 7).  For anyone who has read the limited material on race and development mentioned in the introduction of this review, Wilson’s critique of these should be a welcome addition. Wilson offers an alternative reading to articles that were once considered groundbreaking but have for too long gone unchallenged and perhaps even unread.  There is however one criticism; despite dedicating an entire chapter (Chapter 2) to visual representation of women in development the book does not include a single picture; instead Wilson points the reader to the relevant website or offers her own interpretation of the images 1

A slight concern, is that those who approach this book expecting definitive answers, may end up disappointed; Wilson’s style has an air of ‘thinking aloud’, especially since she constantly asks questions along the way.  However, Wilson openly admits that the book raises even more questions for her and there is merit in the ‘thinking aloud’ style.  The topic she has attempted to address is not only broad; it has been marked for too long by a silence and an unwillingness or inability to engage.  Had Wilson presented her book as the final word on race, racism and development it may have stifled further debate.  Instead by asking questions she provides a platform for student, academics and practitioners to debate further the themes of the book.  In so doing, Wilson remains true to her first analytical framework that considers race as an idea that is “reanimated and reconfigured through contemporary development discourse” (p. 243), because it means that for as long as development discourse continues to evolve there will be always be room to explore the ever changing conceptualisation of race in relation to development.


White, S., 2002. Thinking Race, Thinking Development. Third World Quarterly, 23(3), pp. 407-19.

White, S., 2006. The “Gender Lens”: A Racial Blinder. Progress in Development Studies, 6(I), pp. 55-67.

Wilson, K., 2011. ‘Race’, Gender and Neoliberalism: changing visual representations in development. Third World Quarterly, 32(2), pp. 315-331.


1 An earlier version of this chapter was published as a journal article and it did include a colour image of one of the campaigns referenced so it is unclear why images are omitted from the book. (Wilson, 2011)


NOTE:  The post below was first submitted in March 2013 as an assessed piece of work for one of the modules that make up the  MSc in Practising Sustainable Development  (ICT4D specialism) that I am currently undertaking on a part-time basis at Royal Holloway, University of London.  It is my first attempt at a book review so please do take this into consideration when reading it.

A bit more about this blog

This is cross posted from my personal blog:

I am halfway through my MSc in Practising Sustainable Development (ICT4D specialism) and while as part-time student I still have quite a bit of time before I have to start my dissertation; it is hard not to start the thinking process.  For a long time now I have been interested in Critical Race Theory (CRT)  and one of the things I am keen to research is how  CRT can be used as a theoretical approach to Development studies and practice, particularly ICT4D.  I am also interested in the construction of race in the digital age and how technology is challenging and reshaping views on racial identity.

One of my biggest hurdles at the moment is how little research there is on race and development, particularly outside the conventional binaries of racial haves and have-nots.  So I decided to start a stand-alone blog; Race and ICT4D, which at this stage is simple link dumping site, where I post links that cover race, technology and development.  I have for the moment, steered clear of any analysis and commentary though I imagine, that as I develop my own ideas, I will start  to write more critically.   It is quite a struggle because so often I read something – and I immediately want to comment – but that is what my personal blog is for.

The other thing I am struggling with is how to link to restricted access academic papers.  As a student I have full access to these journals but I am well aware that is not the case for everyone else. I find it a bit limiting to reference an article in a blog post knowing that some readers may not be able to access the article.

It is still very much an evolving project and I am sure as I progress I will find solutions to some of the above (and hopefully many other) issues.  What I really hope is that by providing a public space I can, firstly keep track of my sources but most importantly I can begin to engage with others on similar topics.

Please feel free to send me any links, book titles, articles etc.  that you think may be of interest.