On June 15, 2011, Eric Pasquati, information and communication technology (ICT) project leader at the Foundation for World Agriculture and Rurality (FARM), defended his PhD on the socio-cultural appropriation of mobile phones by farmers in Burkina Faso. This research was carried out at FARM, between January 2008 and June 2011, as part of a CIFRE convention, in partnership with the joint research unit "Models Dynamics Corpus" of the University Paris Ouest Nanterre La Defense, within the discipline of information and communication sciences. Brigitte Juanals has directed this thesis and Bernard Bachelier, then director of FARM, has provided professional guidance to Eric Pasquati.
In this research I try to understand the social and cultural imprint of the appropriation processes of information and communication technologies (ICT), particularly mobile phones, by farmers from the Boucle du Mouhoun region, in Burkina Faso. The main research hypothesis is the existence of reciprocal influences between the construction process of ICT uses and the social and cultural organization of local communities. With a social and cultural approach, this research explores changes in power relations, identities and forms of communication within these communities in relation to the use of ICT. The reasoning is supported by theoretical and empirical sources. On the one hand, I refer to the Sociology of uses, to the Ethnology of techniques, but mainly to the Ethnomethodology’s program and to the Actor network theory. On the other hand, I rely on visits to projects applying ICT for rural development in India and West Africa, and most importantly, on a six-month long fieldwork in Burkina Faso. The methodology adopted orientates research efforts towards understanding local realities instead of representing them with external patterns, hence reinforcing the importance attributed to reflexivity and decentring. Beyond practical conclusions on the social and cultural appropriation of ICT, the most important contribution of my research is methodological. I propose strategies to understand a specific field reality by successive approximations, particularly suited when the researcher is a foreigner to the context of the research.