From Online Sweat Shops to Silicon Savannahs: 
Geographies of Production in Digital Economies of Low-Income Countries


AAG Annual Meeting, Chicago, April 21-25, 2015
(sponsored by the Development Geography Specialty Group)

Mark Graham, Nicolas Friederici, and Isis Hjorth University of Oxford

Throughout the early 21st century, Internet and mobile phone access in developing countries has skyrocketed, and today the majority of people on the planet are connected through information and communication technologies (ICTs). Yet, while basic ICT access is increasingly level across income groups and geographies, production in the global digital economy is still, and maybe increasingly, dominated by incumbent multinational technology corporations or fast-scaling web startups. These businesses tend to roll out their products (with some local adaptation) across the globe, but maintain their coordinating and creative activities in places like Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, or London, exploiting both agglomeration and dispersion economies in digital production (Malecki & Moriset, 2007; Moriset & Malecki, 2009).

How does digital production in low-income countries fare in the face of this dominance? Policymakers and the private sector in several low-income countries (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa) have set out to transform their economies through ICTs, explicitly emphasizing local digital production. Two sectors that are often seen as promising are (1) low-skill/cost-competition, such as business process outsourcing and digital microwork, and (2) high-skill/entrepreneurial innovation, such as startups developing and commercializing mobile and online applications.

However, what are the concrete and realistic potentials and possibilities for low-income countries to become important hubs for digital production? What are palpable economic outcomes of Kenya’s status as the “Silicon Savannah” or Lagos as the “Silicon Lagoon,” and who are the winners and losers of local ICT entrepreneurship and innovation? Do ICTs really deliver economic inclusion and employment to remote geographies and low-income groups, or are we witnessing the rise of online sweatshops that further enhance exploitation of vulnerable populations?

This session will explore these themes, encouraging contributions from a variety of perspectives. We invite authors to consider digital production in low-income/developing countries through lenses such as:

  • Empirical or theoretical perspectives on digital production and its (uneven) geographies
  • Discourse around digital production and its promises and risks
  • Distributions of value creation and extraction across actor groups (winners/losers)
  • Tensions of scaling versus local adaptation in digital production, in application to geography and inclusion/exclusion effects
  • Uneven production geographies within countries, in particular, differences and divides between rural/peri-urban/urban clusters
  • Socio-demographic analyses of economic actors engaging in digital production
  • Case studies of low-skill/cost-competition digital production (e.g., business process outsourcing, microwork, etc.)
  • Case studies of high-skill/entrepreneurial innovation in digital production (e.g., mobile/online applications startups, technology innovation hubs)
  • Analyses and recommendations for local and international policy pertaining to digital production

To be considered for the session, please send your abstract of 250 words or fewer, to:,, and

The deadline for receipt of abstracts is October 1 2014. Notification of acceptance will be before October 7. All accepted papers will then need to register for the AAG conference at Accepted papers will be considered for a special issue or edited volume edited by the organizers.


Malecki, E. J., & Moriset, B. (2007). The paradox of a “double-edged” geography: local ecosystems of the digital economy. In The Digital Economy: Business Organization, Production Processes and Regional Developments (pp. 174–198). New York, NY: Routledge.
Moriset, B., & Malecki, E. J. (2009). Organization versus Space: The Paradoxical Geographies of the Digital Economy. Geography Compass, 3(1), 256–274.

Note: This post was originally published on the OII's Connectivity, Inclusion, Inequality  blog on . It might have been updated since then in its original location. The post gives the views of the author(s), and not necessarily the position of the Oxford Internet Institute.