The Myths and Moral Economies of Digital ID and Mobile Money in India and Myanmar

Janaki Srinivasan, Elisa Oreglia

Abstract


The diffusion of major new technologies in society is often accompanied by a set of myths that tell us how these technologies will change, clearly for the better, the social and economic fabric of a community. Digital technologies are associated with myths such as the death of distance and of mediators, the end of history and of politics (Brown and Duguid 2000; Mosco 2004). We build on Mosco’s idea of myth as a force shaping discourses around the introduction of new technologies in the context of the deployment of digital artifacts such as digital ID systems and mobile money platforms in the Global South (Mosco 2004). Using the examples of the Unique Identification system (Aadhaar) in India and mobile money in Myanmar, we show how these myths persist long after technologies are in common use. We also examine how, in practice, the use of these technologies seldom aligns with the mythology surrounding them, and it is, instead the moral economy of the communities where they are deployed that mediates their use (Thompson 1971). We argue that local histories of state-making and the larger political economy of technology design can help explain the persistence of the mythology around digital technologies despite the disconnect between myths and reality.


Keywords


moral economy; techno-optimism; digital ID; mobile money; mythmaking

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17351/ests2020.276



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