GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Connecting the Dots: Situating digitally-driven knowledge societies and information networks in the United Arab Emirates
Paper Proposal Text :
The Internet and other ICTs are rapidly becoming a ubiquitous phenomena in the everyday lives of individuals. The scope of ICTs continue to widen, with impacts being seen and felt in almost all areas of human institutions such as society, economics, policy, education, or governance (Grewal, 2008; Mueller, Schmidt, & Kuerbis, 2013). Knowledge of and access to digital innovation has helped foster new networks of knowledge production, fostering change and exchange in knowledge societies (Van Dijk, 2012). Countries with high rates of Internet penetration and access are showing signs in the evolution towards a knowledge society connected by information networks (Castells, 2004). Such changes have also been observed in states in the Arab Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates that have some of the highest Internet penetration rates in the Middle East. Such elements are increasingly driving the development of connected knowledge societies (Webster, 2014).

Web Index data from the World Wide Web Foundation in 2014 ranks the U.A.E quite high in terms of web access and use when compared to countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom (Web Index, 2014). Within the the U.A.E. innovation and digital technology are not only fostering new forms of knowledge, they are fundamentally beginning to impact all aspects of society, be it in the public or private sector, government and higher education systems. Reports by various research organisations ranging from digital governments to smart cities seem to suggest that the impacts of digital technology is already starting to be felt. On one hand, there has been a great migration of government services to the digital sphere. On the other hand, UAE-based enterprises that are both social or commercial have seen an effective application of digital tools to ensure they reach and engagement with the public. Lastly institutions of higher education are now trying to accommodate strategies to improve digital literacy and industry skills.

However, the U.A.E ranks lower when it comes to indicators such as using ICTs, digital and open data for economic development, education, social welfare and governance. In addition, previous research has highlighted the lower rates of knowledge production from Arab Gulf countries such as the U.A.E. that is available digitally (Graham, Hale & Stephens, 2011). This warrants an understanding of the gap between Internet penetration and access and the development of information societies, as well as the forms, production, flow and consumption of knowledge.

Thus, this paper attempts to analyse the forms and flows of knowledge in information networks and its impact on the knowledge economy of the U.A.E. Using open data from various public, private and non-profit enterprises and expert interviews from stakeholders in the U.A.E, we hope to corroborate empirical data with a theoretical framework to understand the nuances in the impact of ICTs on knowledge societies. We argue that these changes can be theoretically understood as the rise of the ‘networked society’. While the theoretical concept itself, discussed in depth by Van Dijk (2012) and Castells (2004) is not novel, various characteristics of the network society can help us understand the nuances of its development in specific to the Arab Gulf. Castells argues that the network society is connected through its exchange in information flows that are embedded deeply in the fabric of society (Castells, 2004). Affecting all aspects, we try to understand the hyperconnectedness of this knowledge society to assess factors such as knowledge production, exchange and information awareness and access in the U.A.E.

Our methodological approach triangulates two types of data sources. The first type are indexes created by various public, private and nonprofit enterprises to evaluate countries’ performances in a variety of areas that define a digitally-driven knowledge society such as market digitization, digital governance and network readiness. The second type are expert interviews with key stakeholders in the U.A.E. that can provide us with narratives from individuals with various levels of participation in this envisioned, networked and hyperconnected knowledge economy. Such experts will include for example policymakers, academics, and business leaders.

We anticipate that our contribution through the paper will be two fold. The first is a theoretical contribution that aids in a more nuanced understanding of the trends and shifts that define the transnational knowledge economy and the evolution of the information society and its relevance to the changing landscape of the political economy of the Arab Gulf. The angle that this paper approaches these changes is through the study of the impact of innovative and digital technologies. As cited above, the theoretical lens of Castells’s (2004) concept of the network society helps us build the characteristics of this society. Such an approach will help us analyse how countries such as the U.A.E in the Arab Gulf, are placed when it comes to conditions such as knowledge of technology, information (in its various forms) and access to technology especially when considered a crucial hub in the transnational knowledge society.

The second contribution approaches these questions from the perspective of action based research. There is the humble attempt to envision the conceptual beginnings of a digital lab. This digital lab could ideally bring together some of the outcomes of this research, i.e. the areas where development is required (such as in terms of information production and access), and foster the growth of indigenous knowledge networked societies. Such as digital lab could bring together various stakeholders such as educational institutions, think tanks and policy makers as well as specialists with a range of capabilities to help custom build digital objects and solutions to engender knowledge systems through aspects such as entrepreneurship, education, talent building and policy.

Keywords: Information society, network society, ICTs, knowledge economy, Arab Gulf, United Arab Emirates


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