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Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labour: Who Creates and Controls the Digital City?


A​dditional Forum Information 

Registration: 17h45 - 18h00

Forum Start Time: 18h00

Length: 1 hour 30 minutes

Cocktails will be served after the event


Digital information is the raw material for much of the work that goes on in the contemporary global economy, and there are few people and places that remain entirely disconnected from international and global economic processes. As such, it is important to understand who produces and reproduces, who has access, and who and where are represented by information in our contemporary knowledge economy. This talk discusses inequalities in historical information geographies, before moving to examine the Internet-era potentials for new and more inclusionary patterns. It concludes that rather than democratizing platforms of knowledge sharing, changing connectivities appear to be enabling a digital division of labour in which the visibility, voice and power of the North is reinforced rather than diminished.


Mark Graham is an Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at the OII, a Research Fellow at Green Templeton College, an Associate in the University of Oxford's School of Geography and the Environment, and a Visiting Fellow at the Department of Media and Communications in the London School of Economics and Political Science.

He has published articles in major geography, communications, and urban studies journals, and his work has been covered by the Economist, the BBC, the Washington Post, CNN, the Guardian, and many other newspapers and magazines. He is an editorial board member of Information, Communication, and Society, Geo:Geography, Environment and Planning A, and Big Data & Society. He is also a member of DFID's Digital Advisory Panel and the ESRC's Peer Review College.

In 2014, he was awarded a European Research Council Starting Grant to lead a team to study 'knowledge economies' in Sub-Saharan Africa over five years. This will entail looking at the geographies of information production, low-end (virtual labour and microwork) knowledge work, and high-end (innovation hubs and bespoke information services) knowledge work in fifteen African cities.

The rest of his work can be divided into three categories:

ICT for Development

Mark is particularly interested in the multiplicity of attempts to implement development and reduce a 'digital divide' by altering economic positionalities and reconfiguring commodity chains in places on the global periphery. He is currently involved in a multi-year project funded by an ESRC-DFID grant to study the effects of broadband use and access in Kenya and Rwanda, asking who benefits (and who doesn't) from improved connectivity. The ultimate aim of this research is to better understand the variety of strategies employed in using online-presence to offset remote physical presence. Mark's previous work in this area focused on similar questions within the context of the Thai silk industry. These projects have been supported by the ESRC, the British Academy, the NSF, the Fell Fund, and the American Association of Geographers.

Internet and Information Geographies

Mark's work on the geographies of the Internet examines how people and places are ever more defined by, and made visible through, not only their traditional physical locations and properties, but also their virtual attributes and digital shadows. Specifically, he is interested in how ubiquitous electronic representations of urban environments that are made possible by services and platforms such as Google Maps, Twitter and Wikipedia (e.g. a project on Wikipedia's networks and geographies) have the power to redefine, reconfigure, and reorder the cities that they represent. Of particular interest are the barriers to participation and the way that some people can lack voice and representation in online platforms. This work has been featured in over one hundred media outlets around the world (including The Guardian, The New York Times, and Wired) and has been funded by the IDRC and the John Fell Fund. Some of his published academic work on this topic can be found on his website, while more recent work can be accessed on the Information Geography website, his zerogeography blog and the floatingsheep blog that he co-founded.

Economic Transparency

Novel ways of collaborating and pooling resources are being made possible by a new wave of Internet projects promoting transparency through commodity chains. The central element in these new projects is the ability of non-proximate transparency to effect patterns of consumption and economic flows. Mark's work in this area examines how a variety of social networks and the ability of consumers to monitor distant nodes on production chains can reorganise economic activities. His efforts centre on developing useful frameworks for the effects of non-proximate transparency, as well as detailed empirical studies on multiple transparency-promoting projects. He has recently set up a commodity chain tracing project ( that will allow people to harness the power of user-generated content to uncover the hidden production practices, environmental effects, and economic geographies behind everyday items.

Areas of Interest for Doctoral Supervision

Big data, crowdsourcing, cultural industries, digital divides, ICT4D, inequality, innovation, open data, public policy, social media, labour, markets, digital labour, geography, transparency, participation, Africa, economic geography, production network, ethical consumption, power

Research interests

Internet Geography, ICT for development, globalization, economic geography, transportation and communications, social theory, transparency, user-generated content, Southeast Asia, East Africa, zombies

Positions held at the OII

  • Professor of Internet Geography, July 2016 -
  • Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor, May 2014 - July 2016
  • Senior Research Fellow, August 2013 - May 2014
  • Director of Research, October 2012 - December 2013
  • Research Fellow, October 2009 - July 2013


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  • Prof Helena Barnard is a full professor at GIBS and responsible for the GIBS doctoral programmes. She developed the proposal leading to Academy of Management, the leading professional organisation for management scholars, conducting its first-ever conference outside of North America at GIBS in Johannesburg in January 2013. She was the Academy of International Business (AIB) Vice President for Administration (2017 to 2020) and is currently the founding chairperson of the Emerging Markets Special Interest Group of AIB. From 2018 to 2019, she was the Dunning Fellow at the John H Dunning Centre for International Business at the University of Reading. 

    Prof Barnard is an area editor for the Journal of International Business Policy and the editor in charge of international business research for the Africa Journal of Management. Until 2021, she served as deputy editor in charge of Africa for the journal Management and Organizational Review where she was recognised with a Distinguished Editor Award. She is also an editor for AIB Insights and is on the editorial review boards of Global Strategy Journal and Academy of Management Perspectives

    Prof Barnard has published in the Journal of Management (ABS4*), Journal of International Business Studies (ABS4*), Research Policy (ABS4*), Journal of World Business (ABS4) and others. 

    Her research interests are in how knowledge (and with-it technology, organisational practices, and innovation) moves between more and less developed countries, particularly in Africa. She researches both organisational mechanisms (notably emerging multinationals and internet-enabled businesses) and individual mechanisms such as scientific collaborations, doctoral training, and the diaspora. 

    Prof Barnard has been an invited speaker on emerging market multinationals at inter alia Aalborg University in Denmark (February 2006), Northeastern University in Boston (August 2012), the COST Action Group at the European International Business Academy in Sussex, UK (December 2012) and at NYU at a conference organised by Phankaj Ghemawat (September 2016). 

    Prof Barnard received and served on the executive and scientific committee of an EU-funded FP7 project on global innovation networks (2009 to 2011). She was awarded a grant from the Canadian IDRC to support the doctoral study of students from wider Africa (2013 to 2017) and a British Council/DHET grant (2020 to 2025) for the support of South African faculty members who wish to obtain their doctorates.

    Prof Barnard is involved with projects with the University of Strasbourg (France) and Maastricht University (Netherlands) on global academic collaborations and with the Oxford Internet Institute on how online markets are changing business across borders. She is a fellow at the Future of Work in the Global South initiative and the DIODE network (Development Impacts of Digital Economies) at Manchester University. She has been rated as an internationally recognised scholar by the South African National Research Foundation. 

    Before she started her academic career, Prof Barnard worked at Home Depot in the USA from 1999 to 2004, first in Instructional Design and then in Logistics. Her first career was in the field of Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET). 


    • PhD (RU) 
    • MBA (UP) 
    • BA Hons (UP)
    • BA (UP) 
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