Finding a Voice Through ‘Humanitarian Technologies’? Communication Technologies and Participation in Disaster Recovery

Voice—understood as the ability to give an account of oneself and participate in social processes—is increasingly recognized as significant for humanitarian action and disaster recovery. Giving disaster-affected people the opportunity to make their voices heard has the potential to democratize humanitarianism and correct the power asymmetries on which it is based. Humanitarian agencies have embraced interactive communication technologies as tools for voice and participation. Drawing on a yearlong ethnography with communities affected by super-Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, this article assesses the potential of new communication technologies for voice. Our findings highlight a disconnect between assumptions about technology present in humanitarian policies and the actual uses of technology by affected populations. The article traces the factors that facilitate, or hinder, participation and finds that communication technologies enable voice only if other parameters, such as a strong civil society, are present. Further, we observe that opportunities for voice are stratified, mapping onto existing social inequalities.

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CC BY-NC-ND 4.0