The Fieldsite as a Network

An article of mine just came out in the journal Field Methods.  It deals with the logistical and epistemological challenges inherent in research that attempts to study phenomena that unfold on vast and unbounded spatial terrain.  This includes work concerned with diasporic groups, cyberspace, in urban settings, etc.  The article is titled The Fieldsite as a Network: A Strategy for Locating Ethnographic Research.

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My journal article titled “User Agency in the Middle Range: Rumors and the Reinvention of the Internet in Accra, Ghana” is now officially forthcoming in the journal Science Technology, & Human Values.  A draft version is also available here.

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Summer Research Institute

I’ve been accepted as a “camper” at the Summer Research Institute for the Science of Sociotechnical Systems this year to be held at Minnowbrook (near Syracuse).  Very excited to be heading back for a visit to upstate New York (where I haven’t been since I graduated from Cornell almost 10 years ago).

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Mobile Phones and African Studies

Now Available: Mobile Phones: The New Talking Drums of Everyday Africa

Edited by Mirjam de Bruijn, Francis Nyamnjoh and Inge Brinkman.
Langaa Publishers / ASC, 2009. Available on and ABC Books.

‘We cannot imagine life now without a mobile phone’ is a frequent comment when Africans are asked about mobile phones. They have become part and parcel of the communication landscape in many urban and rural areas of Africa and the growth of mobile telephony is amazing: from 1 in 50 people being users in 2000 to 1 in 3 in 2008. Such growth is impressive but it does not even begin to tell us about the many ways in which mobile phones are being appropriated by Africans and how they are transforming or are being transformed by society in. This volume ventures into such appropriation and mutual shaping. Rich in theoretical innovation and empirical substantiation, it brings together reflections on developments around the mobile phone by scholars of six African countries (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Sudan, and Tanzania) who explore the economic, social and cultural contexts in which the mobile phone is being adopted, adapted and harnessed by mobile Africa

I have a chapter in this book titled – “Could Connectivity Replace Mobility?  An Analysis of Internet Cafe Use Patterns in Accra, Ghana

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Talk for CITRIS now on YouTube

The talk I gave to CITRIS on February 11th is available on YouTube.  It was titled, “Co-Evolution of the Mobile Phone and Its Users in Rural Uganda.

Abstract: Mobile phones are being rapidly and enthusiastically adopted in rural, even non-electrified regions in Uganda. The potential for engineering applications to effectively reach poor, rural populations is immense given this substantial baseline of technology use. These phone owners possess for the first time a small amount of digital data storage, some processing power, and network connectivity. In this talk I will argue against the notion that technologies impact society unidirectionally and will emphasize instead the creative role of users in making these devices useful and relevant within their own particular cultural context. A particular case is the successful repurposing of the phone to facilitate money transfers. This was accomplished by sending air-time codes via text message. In this way users have extended and improved the utility of the mobile phone. The local logic of money transfer is part of broader efforts to cope with resource-constraints and reflects a low-cost, lightweight solution for daily living, insurance, survival, and risk management. Engineering efforts that recognize and build upon the momentum of existing technology use have the potential to be far more efficient with resources and more broadly influential and more in tune with the interests of potential users than those that seek to introduce entirely novel devices and systems.

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Insights Drawn from Newspaper Ads

The text reads “phones of love” [essimu ya malaavu] and the ad appeared in the Daily Monitor, one of the main Ugandan newspapers, in the lead up to Valentine’s Day.  It reflects the phenomenon of mobile phone gifting from men to women that I heard a great deal about while doing fieldwork there.  This image is part of my growing collection of media clippings, advertisements, articles, as well as songs, music videos etc. from the countries where I do research (Ghana and Uganda) although I’d like to expand it to include clippings from other African countries.

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Working Paper: Shared Access and Equality

I’ve just posted a new working paper titled, “Evaluating Shared Access: social equality and the circulation of mobile phones in rural Uganda” 

ABSTRACT: This article examines forms of shared access to technology where some privileges of ownership are retained. I propose a framework for evaluating the equality in access concerns that arise from a multitude of sharing configurations. This analytical lens employs a definition of sharing as informal, non-remunerative resource distributing activities where multiple individuals have a relationship to a single device as purchaser, owner, possessor, operator and/or user. In the specific case of mobile phone gifting and sharing in rural Uganda, dynamics of social policing and social obligation were mediated and concretized by these devices. Patterns of sharing mobile phones in rural Uganda yielded preferential access for needy groups (such as those in ill health) while systematically and disproportionately excluding others (women in particular). The framework for sharing proposed in this article will be useful for revising survey design work on technology adoption and access as well as for structuring comparisons across cultural contexts.

Available in pdf format

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Talk at Michigan State

I was invited to give a talk on March 4th at Michigan State University for the department of Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media.  The topic “What Constitutes ‘Good’ ICTD research” was based on a discussion over methodology carried out on the TIER mailing list and then in person at a TIER workshop with Kentaro Toyama (MSR India).

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