Spatially shaped imaginaries of the digital economy

Wahome, Michel and Graham, M. (2020) Spatially shaped imaginaries of the digital economy. Information Communication and Society, 23 (8). pp. 1123-1138. ISSN 1369-118X

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    Abstract

    This paper examines spatial imaginaries and their ability to circumscribe and legitimate economic practices mediated by digital technologies, specifically, the practices of digital entrepreneurship. The question is whether alternative imaginaries and typologies of digital entrepreneurship can be included in how we view digital entrepreneurship in order to stimulate new practices and imagined futures. Our case studies of digital entrepreneurs in a number of African cities illustrate that popular and academic spatial imaginaries and discourses, for example those that cast the digital economy as borderless and accessible, do not correspond with the experience of many African entrepreneurs. Furthermore, enacting the metaphoric identities that coincide with these imaginaries and their discourses is a skillset that determines which (and how) actors can participate. They reflect the inherent coloniality of the digital, capitalist discourse. The tendency in the digital economy is to regard the entrepreneur persona, as realistic and global, rather than performative and particular to the Euro-American context in which these personas have originated. Our interviews of 186 digital entrepreneurs demonstrate that digital imaginaries and metaphors cannot be neutral and apolitical. In order to be inclusive, they should evoke a sense of multiplicity, heterogeneity and contingency.