22.- 25.9

P 18

The impact of mobile technologies on social structures in Africa

Tamara Gupper, Goethe University Frankfurt and École des Hautes Études en Sciences

Roos Keja, Goethe University Frankfurt and Utrecht University, r.keja@uu.nl


Short abstract:

Since the rapid adoption of mobile technologies in Africa, the initial euphoria about their
potential for development has been complemented with more ambiguous accounts. This
panel focuses on the role of mobile technologies in Africa, inviting empirically informed
contributions that challenge assumptions about their social and political impact.

Long abstract:

After the first dust has settled about the rapid adoption of new ICT by African users, especially mobile phones, the initial euphoria on their potential for economic, political and social development has been complemented with more ambiguous accounts. This panel focuses on the highly volatile research subject of mobile technologies in Africa, challenging assumptions about their impact on society. In what has become known as ICT-4-Development (ICT4D), it is often assumed that easier access to information and long-distance communication would logically lead to improvements in different aspects of people’s life. However, the unfolding research field on the impact of mobile phones in Africa indicates that mobile phones are appropriated in manifold and ambiguous ways.
When considering political participation for example, access to social media is considered to be a catalyst for a free exchange of opinion and democratization processes, thereby
potentially ‘giving voice’ to people who might otherwise not have access to debates. However, this is not evident in contexts where movement within social and political hierarchies is restricted. Mobile technologies as medium for information exchange and expression both exist within and shape local power structures. Their usage also has a material component, such as users’ economic means or availability of infrastructure. Mobile technologies exist in urban, rural and transnational environments, and can contribute both to confirming and weakening their interlinkages.

In light of mobile technologies in Africa, this panel focuses on the ways in which social
hierarchies, power structures and established practices change through their usages, thereby overcoming simplistic assumptions. Can we discern how mobile technologies challenge or reconfirm existing structures and social processes, or might there not even be an apparent change? This panel invites empirically informed contributions on social effects of mobile technologies in different thematic areas, such as civil society, politics, economics, health or education.


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