department of informatics

Designing ICTs for Conflict in Local Voluntary Communities

TitleDesigning ICTs for Conflict in Local Voluntary Communities
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsHalabi, A.
Academic DepartmentDepartment of Informatics
UniversityUniversity of Fribourg
Thesis TypePhD thesis
KeywordsCollaboration, Community Informatics, Conflict, HCI Design, Syria

This work is concerned with the role of ICT in conflict in local voluntary communities. In late 2012, and while doing fieldwork with a voluntary community (VOCI) in Damascus, Syria, conflict broke out between community members. This conflict, which was due to mounting disagreement over future visions and the rights to access and control, persisted for almost a year, and incurred considerable hardship on the people involved. The study followed the conflict, the actors involved, the spaces where it was expressed, and the tools used in communicating and processing it. The findings involved conceptualizing how the conflict translated to a struggle to control online spaces where members communicated and coordinated. We synthesized our findings in the research team by designing Modus; an online multi-user tool that is intended to enable managing shared ownership of online assets and spaces in local communities.

In this thesis I elaborate on the inductive and qualitative fieldwork which involved observing practices of VOCI members and the conflict that occurred, analyzing and conceptualizing those observations, and designing a critical alternative to what the Internet enables in terms of managing shared ownership. The contributions of this research are qualitative (by describing and analyzing a case in a seldom studied setting and context); methodological (an approach to exploratory participatory research informing design); conceptual (by theorizing the case of conflict in VOCI as related to governance and to a struggle to control material resources); and design-oriented (by weaving the analysis into a concrete design of an online tool to for managing shared ownership and control in local voluntary communities).

This work is rooted in an interest to contribute to local community building and development in Syria, and especially in the recent humanitarian crisis triggered by violence and the deterioration of services and infrastructure. Amidst this context, which has contributed to shaping the growth of VOCI, the life of its members, and the activities they organized, I take a position that values contributing to local voluntary communities as a way to deal with and address the deteriorating conditions. It is by working on building communal ties that local communities could self-organize to pursue common interests and address the service and institutional void.

Refereed DesignationRefereed
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