he contribution of new information and communication technologies to development processes and territorial dynamics is today at the center of many debates, both with regard to the control of information and the reduction of spatial distances that it would allow. . The nature of the arguments put forward largely depends on the proposed interpretation schemes and the underlying hypotheses on the development process and more generally on the interrelations between the technical and the social.
2For the past thirty years, certain analyzes have considered technical progress as a revolution that would make it possible to abolish physical distance and break up traditional territories, relying implicitly on an economic analysis, classical or neoclassical where production costs are transport cost function. The advent of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) would then be capable of gradually erasing regional disparities, reducing costs and promoting the movement of companies to disadvantaged areas.
3These patterns are now being challenged. The annihilation of distances by a substitution of telecommunications for transport seems largely contradicted – the effect is more complementary than substitution -; the teleworking provided for in the prospective works of the 1960s remains within modest limits whatever the approach adopted, regional planning or telecommunications techniques (CRAIPEAU, 1995). However, beyond the disappointments and even the partial failures, ICTs continue to arouse increased interest among local authorities, recalling the power of seduction that they can have on elected officials (EVENO, 1999).
4Our purpose here is not to idealize ICTs, or to reject them, adhering to an irreducible opposition between “technophiles” – for whom technology is a solution in itself, inducing a scenario of linear progress -, and “technophobes » rejecting any impact of the technique on the processes in place. We will question the place that ICTs occupy in territorial dynamics through development projects.To do this, and initially, it seems necessary to specify the problems raised by ICTs in space matters, moving away from a purely technical and mechanical assessment in terms of dissemination. The reflection will then move away from the contradictory analyzes that have been made on a structuring role attributed to ICT, to prefer an interpretation in terms of “facilitator” of dynamics (Section I ). Based on an assessment
European evaluation carried out within the framework of the ORA program
Numbers in parentheses refer to endnotes…of 25 European projects implementing ICTs in rural areas, we will consider another interpretation scheme based on the contextualization of ICTs, that is to say on the different factors that make it possible to leave behind a purely technical reading in order to reaffirm the dimension social and economic projects. We will first specify the conditions in which the projects took place (Section II ), to situate the place of ICT with regard to all the other criteria involved in their implementation (Section III ). Finally, in conclusion, the influence of the social and economic context in which the technique is inserted will be recalled.
I – A renewal of the spatial issue of information and communication technologies
5The advent of communication networks and the irruption of “quasi-instantaneousness” (the possibility offered of being at the same time here and elsewhere) largely pose the question of the confrontation and rapprochement of spatial and temporal scales. G. DUPUY (1991) underlines the “blurring of territorial scales” by the opening of the economy thanks to the possible processing of information on a scale other than that of a location or a labor pool. H. BAKIS (1995) speaks of “an immaterial bridge” between various levels of geographical space, which would bring together the local and the global, allowing an unprecedented articulation between these two scales. F. JAUREGUIBERRY (1999) judges that, for the first time in history, there would be a real possibility of breaking the space-time binomial where “saving one (space) would result in a gain of the other (time)” (p. 44). However, and paradoxically in relation to the interest of the theme, studies on the spatial implication of ICTs are underdeveloped, thus allowing the idea of a fragmentation of territories and a standardization of spaces to be reinforced.
A debate on the possible spatial reorganizations due to ICT
6A large part of the literature makes abundant reference to the advent of a “society without distance”, of a “transparent space” populated by individuals without territorial ties, which would lead to new forms of social relations, where distance physics would be abolished in the same way as social distance in a globalized environment. However, the observation of the facts today leads to a very different reading, and contradicts, at least temporarily, the thesis of the collapse of spatial scales or even the erasure of cities. Deterministically associating the development of transport and communication technologies with forms of spatial organization seems very uncertain (PLASSARD, 1993).
7However, this led to the reinforcement of two “myths” (BEGAG, CLAISSE, 1991). The first is that of spatial neutrality thanks to information technologies without distance and without temporal thickness (instantaneous); that of the impetus for a new organization of space with the abolition of the constraints of distance and time, with unbridled prospects on telework, the end of the daily commute, the move from the city to the countryside. Certain presuppositions, however largely contradicted, have contributed to the confusion that may have arisen between a geographical location and a media space without physical distance.