The first copy of my monograph was sitting in my pigeonhole at work this morning. It’s hot off the press and hopefully is going to make me a millionaire (not!).
It seems to have taken far too long to get to this point from when I submitted my doctoral thesis for examination. Yet, in hindsight, I am glad I took the time to update, rewrite and edit the thesis for publication. Looking through it quickly I can see the value of those 4.5 years between submission and publication. For example, what took up a whole one-third of my thesis to plough through, the theoretical framework of social imaginaries, has now been condensed into a single chapter. It is also important, for me at least, that there were several chapters that I had specially written for the book that were not part of the thesis. Clarity, it seems, is a dividend of time.
It’s a slim volume. 184 pages from cover to cover and hopefully, easy enough to read and digest. My favourite chapters are 1 (Social imaginaries), 3 (Nation and Internet) and 4 (Users and Non-Users in the Malaysian social imaginary). I’ll tell you why. Not too long ago someone who had read my thesis asked me what social imaginaries are. My answer was terribly vague but with the distance of time I daresay for me working out the framework of social imaginaries enabled me to understand how people acquire the assumptions, knowledge and information that allow them to function on a day-to-day basis. It also clarified for me the deeper, tacit understandings that underlie our everyday acts, how and why we behave the way we do and how the societies we live in relate to each other. So if I had the chance to answer that question again I would say, the social imaginaries framework is my way of understanding how the world works. This is the reason I favour Chapter 1.
Chapter 3 is liked because I wrote it with a view to pointing out the assumptions behind the emphasis on digital technologies for development. It terrifies me when I see entire nations pinning all their hopes on a suite of technologies to lift them out of poverty. If heads of nations are to commit the million-dollar budgets to technologies that they do today, they and their populace need to see the assumptions of technology’s agency for what they are. Let there be no pretence or illusions of certainty.
Finally, I favour Chapter 4 because that is where the thesis started, from a simple observation that whilst grandmothers may not use the internet, their lives, past and future, are nonetheless inflected with its existence. You could say the entire exercise, the doctorate, thesis and book, is a result of that need to understand such a situation.
It has been an interesting experience. In his 1993 Reith Lectures, Edward Said said Giambattista Vico discovered “that the proper way to understand social reality is to understand it as a process generated from its point of origin…”. And in my own way, I think that is what I’ve tried to achieve here. The next part of what I need to do is to take that study of a social reality from its points of origin even further. One hopes it will prove to be equally satisfying.