Imagine a world

This page is the english part of a PhD thesis' on line edition.

Lire la thèse de doctorat complète en français.

PhD student : Lionel Scheepmans

Discipline : Social and cultural anthropology

Thesis promoter : Olivier Servais.

Members of the accompanying board : Pierre-Joseph Laurent, Christophe Lazaro, Emmanuel Wathelet.

Institution : Université catholique de Louvain.

Presentation of the PhD studentEdit

Academic backgroundEdit

Professional and voluntary experience related to the thesisEdit

Thesis projectEdit


This research project is a continuation of a series of academic works and an accumulation of experiments on the digitization of knowledge and its diffusion within societies.

In concrete terms, this achievement translates into:

  • A first online ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the community of active contributors in the encyclopedia of French-speaking Wikipedia (Master's thesis in anthropology).
  • Five years involvement in the Wikimedia movement as a volunteer in online and offline activities.
  • Two field visits in the southern hemisphere as an ambassador Wikimedia.
  • A year of university studies focused on ethical issues related to the Wikipedia movement and the publication of scientific knowledge (Certificate in economic and social ethics provided by the Hoover Chair).
  • A current position of attaché in digital anthropology at the NGO Leuven Cooperation until September 2018.


In the first phase, this doctoral thesis is part of a full-time activity at the NGO Leuven Cooperation. During this time, close collaboration between the NGO and the academic community will be implemented with the aim of establishing a sharing of expertise specific to each institution. Three field visits will be planned in the projects supported by the NGO (Madagascar, Cambodia, Bolivia). These visits will make it possible to facilitate the arrival of the researcher within the local communities and, on the other hand, to make the first research results directly usable by the NGO.

On a wider scale, and still in the field of development cooperation, the issue of digitization is one of the primary concerns of the Belgian Ministry of Cooperation. In this regard, a title of the newspaper AGORIA published in April 2016 clearly states that Mr Alexander De Croo, Minister for Development Cooperation and Digital Agenda, has the ambition "to make digitization a trademark of Belgian Development Cooperation "[1]. To this end, a number of actions have already been taken, such as: the publication of a strategic note [2], a call for proposals for the launch of a Belgian Digital for Development (D4D) platform [3], The awarding of prizes to three projects using digitization as a lever for development [4] and the publication of an issue of in September 2016 under the title "A Digital Revolution for the South" [5]. The reading of this journal gives us the opportunity to discover a whole series of issues related to this project doctoral thesis. issues

As the magazine illustrates, what some are already calling the "Third Industrial Revolution" [6] is a source of hope. Indeed, during his reading, we discover a whole series of pleasing testimonies:

  • GSM payment systems in Somalia;
  • Of optical fiber in Rwanda;
  • Intelligent Internet-specific networks in Ethiopia;
  • Applications against impunity and schools are connected directly to the government in the DRC;
  • Birth registration by SMS in Benin;
  • Women from disadvantaged backgrounds who are experts in programming in Peru;
  • Evaluative applications in hospitals in Kyrgyzstan;
  • Tablets are made by and for the Haitians for the benefit of their schools;
  • Fighting food crises and epidemics with the help of mobile operators;
  • Support for refugees by telephone contact in different parts of the world

All these projects illustrate concretely some of the apparent benefits of the digital area in the countries of the South. In general, they highlight a remarkable penetration of mobile phones in the southern countries that contrasts with other technologies or mechanisms of change (microfinance, anti-malaria devices, etc.) carried by governments or actors Development. As the magazine also points out, the digital revolution has a flip side. On this reversal will appear the Agbogbloshie landfill in Ghana and the 50,000 people who live on it, mines from precious metals to electronics controlled by armed groups, the shadow of the Big Data and its The problems of respect for privacy and anonymity in politically unstable places of the world conducive to the emergence of new genocides, and finally the persistent question of "software freedom" [7]. ] And the ethical problems raised by the use of "proprietary software" pointed out by Richard Stalleman [8]. Another symbolic observation to conclude this paragraph, the newspaper of which we have just browsed the titles stops its paper edition. It will only be accessible in digital format, finally ... for those who will have the chance to access the computer equipment needed to read or print it.

So here is the picture. But in the end one has the right to ask oneself who in all this cares about the opinion of the peoples of the South? Who can tell us what these people think of the digital revolution? How do they live it on a daily basis? What are their fears, their expectations, their apprehensions, their hopes, their representations of change? How does all this newness fit into cultural identities and family structures already greatly weakened by globalization?

All these and many more questions will be difficult to answer by development entrepreneurs. In order to answer this question, it is necessary to take the trouble to share the daily life of these populations, to listen to them, to look at them, to observe them, to share their needs and their occupations, and finally to have access to their representations of the world and the revolution In question. All this represents a work for which the anthropologist seems perfectly equipped thanks to the knowledge acquired by the discipline in terms of methodological and theoretical expertise.

Objective of the project in its methodological and theoretical aspectsEdit

This doctoral thesis project tries to meet two challenges: on the one hand, to fill a scientific deficit in the field of anthropological publications on a subject not yet widely discussed, on the other hand to propose and test, new methods, New tools, even new theories, with the hope of opening up new perspectives of evolution to this Mike Singleton called prospective anthropology [9].

Methodological aspectsEdit

From a methodological point of view, this research work will be carried out in a transparent, dialogical and real-time manner. The collection of information, its processing and publication of the research work will be done online and over the water on the Wikiversity platform. In this way, anyone interested in the subject of this research and having an Internet connection will be able to consult the progress of the work at any time and free of charge. Furthermore, in order to guarantee the dialogical aspect of this research, an invitation will be made to the readers and more particularly to the members of the communities concerned by the research to react to the content via the discussion pages annexed to the research pages.

During the first phase of socio-anthropological exploration, a state of the art on the subject of the research will be published as well as a research on the numerical tools of communication and data collection most adapted to the project. During this phase, field visits will be short-lived (two to three weeks). However, these will allow to start a first fieldwork which will be able to continue via different channels of communication over the Internet in order to keep contact with the people met and continue their observation on line. This period of about one year will be the opportunity to take advantage of the teaching offered by Raymond Quivy and Luc Van Campenhoudt in their book titled Manual of Research in Social Sciences [10]. As an intrinsic question of this method, we will choose: "How do the peoples of the South experience the changes implied by the digital revolution? ". In addition to this method of work, we shall also retain the teachings provided by J.-C. Kaufman in his book The Comprehensive Interview [11] by adapting its recommendations to on-line communication [12]. This first exploratory phase will also be an opportunity to position itself on the question of plurivocity linked to any research work established in a globalized context [13]. Finally, in order to anticipate the subjective component of the anthropologist's work, a position will be made among the four cardinal points of social ethics as proposed in the work of Christian Arnsperger and Philippe Van Parijs [14].

The second phase of the project will focus on the implementation of ethnographic work as such. During this period, which will cover several years, emphasis will be placed on the participatory observation method (offline and on-line) and conducting comprehensive interviews (offline and on-line). During this second stage, the concern for the collection and analysis of quantitative data will be reduced to the "rigor of qualitative" as taught by de Sardant in his work of the same name [15]. In addition, to amplify the collection of information, we will also use the many analytical devices offered by visual anthropology.

Theoretical aspectsEdit

From a theoretical point of view, this research work is fully in line with an anthropology of contemporary worlds as described by Marc Augé [16]. Its development will borrow anthropological concepts as "counter-gift" inherited from Mauss [17], the notion of "Ideel" introduced by Godelier [18], or the perspective of an "insecure modernity" described by Pierre-Joseph Laurent [19]. The research on "voluntary servitude" seen by Alain Testar [20] will also nourish our reflection. We will not hesitate to borrow theories from other disciplines. Sociology, for example, can help us better understand the "logics of exclusion" through the work of Elias and Scotson. Philosophy will help us to sharpen our critical view through key concepts such as Michel Foucault's "panoptism" [22] or Ivan Illich's "radical monopoly" [23]. Finally, the observation of the digital revolution will not be possible without using the theoretical knowledge related to the new technologies of communication. To do this, the information and communication sciences must also be mobilized according to the circumstances. In summary, this thesis project will adopt a multidisciplinary approach while ensuring that it does not depart from the anthropological discipline for which it will eventually be evaluated for the title of doctor.

Exploratory phase in Ghana from 1st to 20th September 2017Edit

This page is dedicated to share informations and organize my first visit in Ghana as exploratory phase of my Phd thesis The digital revolution experienced by the global South.

Welcome to every one to organize with me my Ghana venue on this talking page.

Lionel Scheepmans

Visa application and bureaucracyEdit

Embassy opening hoursEdit

From 1st to 31st August, 2017

Submission of Visa & Passport Applications

10.00 am to 12.00 noon

Collection/Pickup of Passports

1.30 pm to 2.00 pm

Visa applicationEdit

Visa application Web page on Ghana Brussels embassy webpageis the only way to submit a visa application to Brussels ambassy. An analogical submission into the office was not possible on Friday August 18th 2017.

The Visa application form, don't work with open source software but only with acrobat reader.

The pdf file ask for a password when it's open with Xreader.

The pdf file open normally with Chrome browser, gaps can be filed, but sending the application is not possible.

On Sunday August 20th acrobat reader was not installable on linux due to a bug.

My only solution was to use friend's computer.

The visa application is supported by a British private limited company named AVLOS LIMITED.

I've receive my visa august 28th 2017. I was one hour late but, after a short discussion and apologize, the women was very nice to give me my passport for not coming back the next day.

Yellow feverEdit

A yellow fever certificate is asked for the entrance in Ghana. Since 2005, the certificate is valid for the life.

Fly connexionEdit


Date Time of arrival Airport Airline Flight Number
September 1st 21h25 (9h25 PM) Accra TAP TP1524


Date Time of departure Airport Airline Flight Number
September 20th 23h55 (11h55 PM) Accra TAP TP1525

Price for the return : €469.27

Contacts in GhanaEdit







Open foundation west AfricaEdit



Activity planingEdit

In Accra (first week-end and second week)Edit

  • Establish contact with Wikimedia, Open street map user groups and other interesting groups involved into the digital revolution in Ghana.
  • Spending one week with in an intergenerational family for sharing daily live and observing the digital revolution in urban context.
  • Visiting Agbogbloshie and other emblematic places of the dark side of the global digital revolution.

Activity planingEdit

  • Blogging Ghana
  • New Media Hub
  • Recommended media houses (Citi FM, Joy FM)
  • GhanaThink Foundation
  • Wikimedia Ghana User Group
  • Recommended businesses
  • Agbogbloshie Scrapyard (e-waste dumpsite)

In village (first week)Edit

Spending one week with in an intergenerational family for sharing daily live and observing the digital revolution in rural context.

Village proposedEdit

  • Korleman
  • Sota
  • Jisonaayili (Tamale)


Research by InternetEdit


All Ghana


All Groups

Bigest group

Other groups


Volunteer groups and associationsEdit

In AccraEdit

In village and other citiesEdit


Until now, my PhD thesis is auto-financed. That's why I have to find the cheapest way to carry out this project. Public transport, specially fly connection, will be the principal cost of this first visit of Ghana. For the rest, I didn't need fancy place for living. Just street food and a bed in a safety place. As anthropologist, my target is sharing time with people not making holidays.

Planing tableEdit

Planing of my visit to Ghana day by day
September Day Place Activity Host Info
01 th Friday Accra Arrival Raphael 21h25 (9h25 PM) with the fly n° TP1524
02 Saturday Accra Meeting with people Mohammed
03 Sunday Dodi island Internet activity and Accra visit Mohammed
04 Monday Yapei Queen ferry Interview on ferry to Northern Ghana Ferry
05 Tuesday Yapei Interview on ferry Justice Hotel
06 Wednesday Tamale Meeting with people Rafik
07 Thursday Tamale Exploring country side Digital Revolution Rafik
08 Friday Zongo Machery Travel and installation Clement

09 Saturday Zongo Machery Visiting the village and collect information Clement
10 Sunday Zongo Machery Visiting the village and collect information Clement
11 Monday Zongo Machery Visit damabai market and testing internet cafe Clement
12 Tuesday Zongo Machery Exploring country side Digital Revolution Clement
13 Wednesday Zongo Machery Exploring country side Digital Revolution Clement
14 Thursday Accra Village and road to Accra Mohammed
15 Friday Accra Road to Accra and Mohammed place Mohammed
16 Saturday Accra Software Freedom Day 2017 Mohammed
17 Sunday Aburi Visit aburi garden Emmanuel

18 Monday Accra Visit the Impact Hub Accra 12pm till they close at 7pm Mohammed
19 Tuesday Accra Exploring city Digital Revolution Mohammed
20 Wednesday Accra Departure Airplane 23h55 (11h55 PM) fly n° TP1525

Raw informations and links about GhanaEdit