Developing Apps, Developing Jordan? ICT Startup Entrepreneurs as Subjects of International Development in Amman’s ‘Silicon Wadi.’
Entrepreneurship has become a buzzword in international development, but what does it mean to be a tech entrepreneur in a developing country? This thesis argues that entrepreneurs occupy complex positions, both criticizing and supporting development interventions, using Jordan’s information and communications technology (ICT) startup ecosystem as a case study.ICT startup entrepreneurs are central figures in development narratives in Jordan, embodying ideals of private sector growth, neoliberal individualism, and the knowledge society, in an economic context of high youth unemployment and a diminished public sector following structural adjustment policies. International development organizations support ICT startup entrepreneurs in Jordan through access to finance and educational initiatives. This thesis makes two key arguments: first, that ICT entrepreneurs criticize development interventions as changing funding and labor markets, distorting the free market that entrepreneurship is supposed to epitomize. Second, that entrepreneurs internalize the logics of development. As critics of development such as Arturo Escobar and James Ferguson note, it is through development that the subjects of development realize that they are underdeveloped. However, Jordan’s ICT startup entrepreneurs identify others as being underdeveloped, while they themselves have taken on developed subjectivities, having adopted practices, ideas, and attitudes prevalent in the paragon of ICT startup entrepreneurship, California’s Silicon Valley. I suggest that ICT entrepreneurship may be part of the construction and distinction of middle class identity. I conclude by recommending that Jordan look not to Silicon Valley as a model, but to more closely comparable ICT startup ecosystems.The findings presented are based on three months of ethnographic fieldwork in Amman in the summer of 2014, including 46 interviews conducted with startup founders, investors and development professionals. This study contributes to an under-examined area of anthropological research on development and entrepreneurship in the Middle East, and is one of the first to focus on ICT startups.
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