Between Indians and “cowboys”: the role of ICT in the management of contradictory self-images and the production of carbon credits in the Brazilian Amazon
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In this paper, we draw upon Goffman’s symbolic interactionism to analyze the ways in which new users in developing countries have adopted ICT to present and manage contradictory self-images to different groups of the public. In particular, we show that the Acapú, an indigenous group in the Amazon, present themselves through online videos and websites as ideal Indians: innate forest stewards aiming to mitigate climate change and ensure the planet’s environmental sustainability. At the same time, the Acapú are also represented through a complex computer simulation model as destructive “cowboys”: farmers and ranchers who are willing to develop by clearing their forests in the absence of financial compensation. This research shows that these two opposing self-images, while contradictory, are necessary for the implementation of REDD projects (a payment mechanism for reducing greenhouse emissions from deforestation). In order to obtain carbon credits from avoided deforestation, the project relies on the difference between deforestation measurements and high levels of predicted deforestation, which in turn, depend on the presentation of destructive self-images through the use of a complex computer simulation. But to sell these credits on a voluntary carbon market, it is necessary for the Acapú to openly market a self-image through the Internet which is attractive to corporate buyers willing to boost their eco-friendly profile. Based on this analysis, the paper challenges the narrative whereby Southern ICT users are passive receivers of technological black boxes. In contrast, it shows that in some cases these new users may participate in the creation of ICT artifacts to manage the impressions of distant audiences. Furthermore, the paper calls attention to the role of computer simulations and other ICT applications in concealing the paradoxes of neoliberal environmental management practices.
Keywordscomputer simulations online media symbolic interactionism impression management black boxes carbon markets REDD
We would like to thank CNPq, CAPES, FAPEMIG, NORAD/IPAM and IEAT/UFMG for the financial support provided for this research. This article also greatly benefited from the remarks of Yola Georgiadou and the other researchers present at the 9th International Conference in Interpretive Policy Analysis, and the constructive comments from Sundeep Sahay and the anonymous reviewers.
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