Knowledge, development and technology : internet use among voluntary-sector AIDS organisations in KwaZulu-Natal
Knowledge is frequently invoked as an explanatory factor in the relationship between technology and development, yet seldom with reference to an explicit conception of knowledge and almost never with reference to contemporary epistemology. The result is a multiplicity of different and in some cases contradictory 'knowledge-based' approaches. At the same time, epistemology is undergoing significant developments that suggest promising directions of enquiry and collaboration with the social and natural sciences. Of particular interest are naturalistic and externalist perspectives in analytic epistemology, where an emerging programme can be discerned aimed at bridging the gap between philosophical and empirical study of the way in which we come to know the world. This project can be seen as part of such a programme, applying naturalistic epistemology to the field of development and technology as the basis of a more grounded and general theory with a range of empirical applications. It begins with a discussion of the philosophical position, identifying three core dimensions of knowledge, their normative features and the potential of technology to support and extend functioning on each dimension. This theory is shown to have close affinities with the capability approach developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, leading to the articulation of a generic theory of 'knowledge capability'. The second half of the project applies the general theory to a case study of Internet use among AIDS NGOs in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, where HIV prevalence rates of 37.5% have been recorded and where response to the epidemic has been left largely to civil society. The knowledge dimensions of NGO AIDS work are explored and conclusions drawn about the interactions between technology use, existing capabilities and wider environmental factors in determining the degree to which technology can in this case be considered a knowledge tool.