Unbundling ‘indigenous space capability’: actors, policy positions and agency in geospatial information science in Southwest Nigeria
Ever since the operation of the first civilian Earth observation (EO) satellites gained momentum in the 1970s, their history has been accompanied by debates over whether in developing countries social and economic development can be promoted through the transfer of space science and technologies, such as remote sensing techniques. Despite continuously growing political and social scientific interest, this debate has so far largely taken place at a comparative level with developing economies and their space programmes as the prime level of analysis. Based on a relevant critical review of development theory perspectives on knowledge and technology transfer to developing countries and corresponding discourses in postcolonial science and technology studies, this thesis moves to the micro-level and provides an ethnography of geospatial information science (GIScience) in Southwest Nigeria. It addresses the limited understanding of social processes that accompany technology transfer by investigating how researchers, who use data from EO satellites, situate themselves in relation to relevant actors, how they conceive their work in relation to society and how they address practices that support their objectives. Research was conducted through multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork and situational analysis at GIScience institutions in Southwest Nigeria, comprising semi-structured interviews, focus groups, participant observation and document analysis. This research challenges the concept of a dependent periphery. Based on individual experiences, researchers in Southwest Nigeria carefully promote EO satellites as a liberating technology that allows them to regain responsibility for unbridled developments at the intersection of Nigeria’s natural and social environments. The thesis demonstrates how Nigerian GIS researchers have developed a collective agency towards relevant capacity building that transcends various institutional limitations and inhibiting national and transnational structures. This agency is set against a backdrop of abstract notions of indigenous capabilities and challenging questions about the implications of GIScience in relation to postcolonial discourses on modernisation and dependency. Overall, this research discusses how we should (figuratively) bring EO satellites back down to Earth for policy-related reasons, whilst creating adequate space for EO technologies and related practices in postcolonial STS.