Mobile Phone Studies using Anthropological Journal Databases

By Francisco Osorio

Our main question is what anthropological studies of mobile phones can be found in a literature review. For that reason we used three peer review journals databases: Abstract in Anthropology, Anthropological Index Anthropology Plus and Sage. We limited the search between 2000 and 2010 (although we need to wait until 2011 to have the 2010 list complete), using the keyword mobile.

The first problem is that the keyword mobile can direct to studies on mobility or other areas not related to mobile phones. The second problem is that at the beginning of the decade the words ‘cell phone’ or ‘cellular telephony’ were more frequent than today’s ‘mobile’, so some studies could not be discovered. The third problem is what can be labelled ‘anthropological’.

The initial query gave us 97 journal articles. The full list (alongside abstracts) can be found here ( The first problem was easy to resolve, because we went for the abstracts in every case selecting only mobile phone studies. The second problem was solve in part by chance, because those databases also coded the articles with the word mobile or phone and because we read every bibliography within each article looking for references not discovered by our method. At this stage, we had a fair understanding of the literature review guided by the references of every essay. The third problem is more complicated. It is reasonable to assume that the databases used contain anthropological journals or anthropological studies. Nevertheless, some anthropologists studying mobile phones could have published elsewhere. Also, it is the case that sociologists or communication scholars (among others) use anthropological methods, concepts or conduct fieldwork in different cultures, publishing in the journals contained in the databases (and elsewhere).

The first solution is to consider a wider definition of the concept ‘anthropological studies of mobile phones’, that is, any study about mobile phones in different cultures using standards social science methods related to cultural and socials aspects. In that sense, we excluded articles exclusively related to language (discourse analysis), games, urbanism, design, education and health. Therefore, the wider definition gave us 63 articles (see the full list here

The second solution is to consider a narrow definition of anthropological study, meaning the one conducted by a professional anthropologist. In that case the answer is 5 (from those 63).

We were shocked by this finding, so we considered widen the literature review into journals devoted to development (also known as ICT or ICT4D), for which we used the selection created by the University of Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics (see list here We found 32 articles in the wider sense of anthropological studies of mobile phones (that number also considers articles discovered by reading the bibliography in every essay). See the full list here. In the narrow definition, 1 of those 32 was published by a professional anthropologist.

Therefore, from 2000 to the present march 2010, we have found so far 6 articles published by anthropologists.

The list ordered by author is the following:

Barendregt, B. (2008). Sex, Cannibals, and the Language of Cool: Indonesian tales of the phone and modernity. The Information Society, 24(3), 160-170.

Horst, H., & Miller, D. (2005). From Kinship to Link-Up: Cell phones and Social Networking in Jamaica. Current Anthropology, 6(5), 755-778.

Horst, H. A. (2006). The Blessings and Burdens of Communication: Cell phones in Jamaican transnational social fields. Global Networks, 6(2), 143-159.

McIntosh, J. (2010). Mobile phones and Mipoho’s prophecy: The powers and dangers of flying language. American Ethnologist, 37(2), 337-353.

Stammler, F. M. (2009). Mobile Phone Revolution in the Tundra? Technological change among Russian reindeer nomads. Folklore (Tartu) 41, 47-78.

Tenhunen, S. (2008). Mobile Technology in the Village: ICTs, culture, and social logistics in India. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (14), 515-534.

We are aware of the limits of this literature review, so we welcome any comments about how can we improve the list.


5 responses to “Mobile Phone Studies using Anthropological Journal Databases

  1. Pingback: Anthropological studies of mobile phones | media/anthropology

  2. Pingback: Anthropology: Taking it mobile | Build it Kenny, and they will come...

  3. See also McIntosh, Janet. “Mobile Phones and Mipoho’s Prophecy: The Powers and Dangers of Flying Language.” American Ethnologist 37. 2 (2010): 337-353.

  4. Pingback: Anthropology: Taking it mobile | Socialbrite

  5. Pingback: 2010 in review, thanks for your visits | Mobile Livelihoods

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s