‘Digital unhu’ in Zimbabwe : critical digital studies from the global south

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2017-12

Authors

McClune, Caitlin Tappin

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Abstract

My dissertation examines how creative organizations in Zimbabwe construct the role of digital media and the African philosophy unhu in their practices and creative artifacts. In this project, I introduce ‘digital unhu,’ a concept that acknowledges the rapid increase in digital connectivity in Zimbabwe. I investigate the particular ways Zimbabwean artistic communities have adopted digital technologies to political, economic and creative life in Harare under conditions of extreme precarity. This framework seeks to highlight the role of labor, specifically, what is known as ‘immaterial labor,’ in the creative products developed by Zimbabweans based in an agriculturally centered economy under increasingly digitally interconnected conditions. Ultimately, I argue that these organizations and artists are responding directly to the unstable political and economic conditions of their country by using these technologies to promote non-hierarchical organizations, emphasizing mobility, collaboration and drawing on the reserves of historical legacies of resistance and survival. The first chapter provides historical background and context for the development of digital unhu in Zimbabwean culture. Chapter two investigates the uses of digital technology, and role of unhu in the Zimbabwean organization Institute for Creative Arts for Progress in Africa (ICAPA) Trust, particularly on its organizational website icapatrust.org. Chapter four compares the experimental documentary Zim.doc to the website Wild Forrest Ranch, in order to point to characteristics unique to the region in uses of open source technology. Chapter five compares the uses of digital media, specifically mobile phones, in the cases of the Zimbabwean pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, and in the dissolution of the Harare-based arts venue the Book Café. Across these different examples, I locate the characteristics of recalibrating cultural practices with new technologies, an emphasis on collaborative production, and the strategies of mobility.

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