Lisa Parks – “Media Infrastructures”

thumbnailMacha is a rural community in the southern province of Zambia and is home to 130,000 Tonga people. The community is the site of an historic mission, a hospital and malaria research institute, several schools, a local open-air market, and a landing strip, all of which are connected to the nation’s electrical grid. Most Machans, however, live off the grid in small, scattered homesteads across vast distances. Many are subsistence farmers and the average income of those in the community is $1 per day. It costs $30 per month for a voucher to access the Internet. In this talk, Lisa Parks will explore the installation and use of Internet and mobile phone infrastructures in rural off-grid communities through the lens of Macha. Using 2013-2013 ethnographic fieldwork, the lecture will cover four main issues: the resource requirements needed to sustain information technologies in remote, rural settings; the physical arrangement and administration of the Internet in rural communities; the varying levels of interest in, knowledge about, and uses of Internet and mobile phone technologies among Machans; and local struggles that have emerged in relation to information technologies.

Dr. Lisa Parks is a Professor and former Department Chair of Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara, and an affiliate of the Department of Feminist Studies. She also currently serves as the Director of the Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara. Parks has conducted research on the uses of satellite, computer, and television technologies in different national contexts. Her work is highly interdisciplinary and engages with fields such as geography, art, international relations, and communication studies. Parks is the author of Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual, and Coverage: Aero-Orbital Media After 911 (forthcoming), and is working on a third book entitled Mixed Signals: Media Infrastructures and Cultural Geographies. She has co-edited three books: Down to Earth: Satellite Technologies, Industries and Cultures, Planet TV, and, and is working on a fourth entitled, Signal Traffic: Studies of Media Infrastructures.

Parks is currently a co-PI with Elizabeth Belding on a $1.2 million research grant from the National Science Foundation that involves collaborating with people in the Southern Province of Zambia to create wireless network solutions for rural communities. Parks has delivered invited lectures in eighteen different countries and in 2006 was awarded a research fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg) in Berlin. She received her Ph.D. in Media and Cultural Studies from the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a minor in Technology and Culture.

This event was produced with support from the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society.