Category Archives: mobliv

Comments on Haitian Monetary Ecologies and Repertoires: A qualitative snapshot of money transfer and savings

by Francisco Osorio

The Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion published this report by Espelencia Baptiste, Heather A. Horst and Erin B. Taylor. The purpose is to study “the variety of ways in which money, people and goods circulate” in Haiti. I will concentrate only on the role of mobile phones given in this study.

The study was conducted in 2010 based on 90 interviews and 5 focus groups, six months after the earthquake the whole world witnessed. The description of current life in Haiti is breath taken, although the report is optimistic somehow and willing to propose solutions to improve life in Haiti.

Following no particular order, the first element I will describe from the report is its opinion about if M-Pesa could be applicable in Haiti. They say “one of the key distinctions between the M-Pesa success in Kenya and the potential of mobile money in Haiti will be the ability to leverage the social and economic power of the diaspora” (p.24).  Unfortunately, I don’t understand very well what they mean with leverage. The report acknowledges the huge importance of remittances from abroad, but I don’t see why those remittances should be “leveraged”. In a different reading, perhaps they only argue that the possible M-Pesa for Haiti should consider that in the current context, remittances are one of the strongest sources of income. The report continues saying that “a model for incorporating the diaspora into future financial services in Haiti may be based in the Philippines where remittances and diasporas play a central role in the day-to-day economic affairs of Filipinos” (p.24). The report doesn’t say why this could be the case. Again, in a different reading, perhaps they are saying that it could be interesting to look at successful models, such as the Philippines.

The second element I want to describe from the report is the importance they put on intermediaries in relationship with mobile money services. This is a really important point. Contrary to some literature on mobile phones studies where it’s all about to bypass the middleman, this report argues the opposite: if mobile money services have a chance to be successful in Haiti, it would be by the role played of intermediaries helping between poor people and money services.  The argument is absolutely clear. Mobile money services should consider Haitian culture. One element of their culture is the role social networks currently play in relationship to the circulation of money. The infrastructure we know based on banks and ATMs simply is not there yet, so money passes through hands in a social network.  A mobile phone service could help to transfer money easily, avoid theft, and allow some form of credit. It is precisely in this new possibility that intermediaries could help by proving support and education because people trust them.

Finally, the report shows mobile phones ownership has been consistently increased during the years. The same trend can be found elsewhere in the world. Other similar findings are that people try to use when possible different phones to speak to different people depending on the network they are (charges between networks are expensive, that’s why in some countries phones use dual sim cards). In the case of Haiti, some people in the border have two phones, one of them from a Dominican Republic network, so they can reach people using that network.


Baptiste, E; Horst, H. and Taylor, E. 2010. Haitian Monetary Ecologies and Repertoires: A qualitative snapshot of money transfer and savings. Report from the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion. November 16, available at

Battery-charging business at Petionville Club golf course IDP camp in Port-au-Prince January 7, 2011


UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2010

Information Economy Report 2010: ICTs, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation

Comments by Dr Francisco Osorio

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published in October 2010 a very important macro-economic study on mobile phones and development. I say mobile phones because most of the report is about this technology.

Torbjorn Fredriksson is the study’s team leader, who presented the report at The University of Manchester on October 14th, organised by the Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics and Brooks World Poverty Institute (see news here). I was giving a printed copy but can be download it here.

The report is organised in five chapters:  (1) Exploring the link between poverty, ICTs and enterprises, (2) Trends in connectivity and affordability, (3) The ICT sector and the poor, (4) ICT use by enterprises and poverty alleviation and (5) The policy challenge.

After attending the presentation and later reading the report, I got the impression of a balanced study. It situates in the middle of two common discourses on M4D: either mobile phones are the final solution to development problems or mobile phones only perpetuates inequality in favour of the rich. The report is optimistic but it is not deterministic: there is evidence mobile phones can help socioeconomic development but also the lack of knowledge is important that cannot supports strong arguments either in favour or against. Simply said nobody knows yet.

We know one thing: mobile phones are important because is the communication technology poor people use the most after TV and radio. In other words, mobile phones are important for the poor. This simple sentence is the starting point of all research. When it is expressed in a graph, the statistical evidence shows a curve that goes up incredible fast (more phones than ever, more poor people using them).

Then the question: what does it mean? For the UNCTAD report it means an opportunity that could be used to help the poor. It does not say it will help, it might. Governments could support the mobile phone industry, because it may help to alleviate poverty. The report, although cautions, bets for an investment without strong arguments in favour. This jump into the unknown may pay well.

Even so, the most important conclusion is that we need more research. The report shows examples from many sources. Going through the references, the only anthropologist cited is Barendregt. Many references go to Donner and Heeks. The key examples come from India and Kenya but there are others from all over the world.

The report says it focuses on enterprises because they can significantly contribute to poverty reduction. The role ICTs play in enterprises, it says, is to give information access and better communications for poor people to help them build livelihood assets.

The report covers many aspects of this relationship between the poor, enterprises and mobile phones (the key ICT) and there is a very good quote that summarises one aspect of this relationship: mobile phones are more effective as a livelihood resource (communication tool) than as a source of livelihood (income generation) for the poor.

There are important distinctions to be made within enterprises. Considering its size, there are micro-enterprises, small and medium and large. Considering its purpose, they could be classified as subsistence based or growth-oriented. Considering use of ICTs, there are directs and indirect uses, either for economic and non-economic purposes. In other words, the landscape is not simple and many distinctions need to be made, instead of using concepts such as enterprises and the role of ICTs as mono-dimensional. The focus of the report is in the direct use of ICTs by poor in enterprises and direct use of ICTs by poor in ICT sector enterprises.

Other important aspect covered by the report is the problem that such a technology is facing around the world: affordability, network coverage, prices, taxes, and public policies against it, among others. Also, the open question is what would happen in the future. If TV and radio are important, well, some mobile phones integrate both into the handset (but they are too expensive to use for the poor). If the Internet is vital to access information, the mobile phone could be the way forward for the poor (still, many problems of affordability here).

As a final comment, I think this report could easily produce impact in the M4D academic community and for our project will be of great importance.

Youth, mobile phones and social change

via Mobile  Revolutions

TakingITMobile is a community-based research study conducted in partnership with the social network TakingITGlobal that examines how youth leaders across the globe use mobile communications to create social change within their local communities and internationally. As an e-PAR study, youth participants were encouraged to take the reigns as researchers through the online TakingITMobile Working Group, which comprised of 39 youth representing 20 different countries. TakingITMobile participants (n = 565) paint a picture of the diversity of mobile youth activism around the world.

More information…

(with thanks to Mireia Fernandez-Ardevol for the link)

Mobile phones and development in Latin America

Presentation given by Mireia Fernandez Ardevol to the ICT4D Postgraduate Network, UPC Barcelona, 9 September 2010.

Summary by Ismael Peña-López:

Project to analyze mobile telephone usage in Latin America. Diffussion or mobile penetration, though not as high as higher-income countries, it does have a certain level of penetration that sometimes almost reaches 100% (higher-income countries reach up to 120%). Penetration is though unevenly distributed.

Research question: does mobile communication affects (impacts on) socio-economic development in Latin America? That was a new question in the region of Latin America, and it was relevant and ambitious, and wide, as a whole research network of several people and institutions worked together to answer the research question.

The levels of analysis: macro (economics, econometrics, context), meso-organizational (institutions, markets) and micro. It was very important too to maintain a multidisciplinary focus to gather all the shades of meaning of such a complex topic.

continued here…

Mobile Phone papers presented in EASA 2010

The European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) held its 11th EASA Biennial Conference in Maynooth (Ireland) from the 24th to the 27th August 2010 (

Anthropologists presenting their research on mobile phones (or that addressed the subject in a wider context) were concentrated in two workshops: Media Anthropology and Digital Anthropology. The first one was coordinated by John Postill (Sheffield Hallam University) and Philipp Budka (University of Vienna). The second by Daniel Miller (University College, London) and Heather Horst (University of California, Irvine).

Here you can see a list of those papers, authors and abstract. They will most likely translate into journals articles in the future.

1) Mobile rewards: a critical review of the Mobiles for Development (M4D) literature

John Postill (Sheffield Hallam University) and Francisco Osorio (Sheffield Hallam University)

The extraordinary rate of diffusion and adoption of mobile phones across the global South over the past decade has given rise to a new interdisciplinary field known as Mobiles for Development (M4D). The key debate in the field is whether mobile phones are having any significant impact on the economic livelihoods of marginalised people living in regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America. Positions range from those who argue that mobiles are finally enabling poor people to overcome the digital divide to those who suggest that mobiles are in fact exacerbating old inequalities, through a number of in-between positions, including that of scholars who argue that only some low-income people (e.g. micro-entrepreneurs) are reaping the economic rewards of mobile phones. This paper is a critical review of the multilingual, peer-reviewed M4D literature on this unresolved debate from 2001 to 2010. Drawing from the theory of practice, we search for novel ways of mapping the shifting rewards of mobile practices under conditions of rapid change. The two main working assumptions are that mobile phones have blurred the lines between lives and livelihoods (Donner 2009) and that the rewards of mobile practices in the global South are of many different kinds (financial, social, expressive, sensual, etc., Warde 2005) and not solely ‘for development’.

2) Youth, Families and Participation in Networked Public Culture

Heather Horst (University of California, Irvine)

Youth throughout the world are growing up in world where new media and technology are changing norms of communication, creation and participation. Building upon ethnographic research among American youth and families in Silicon Valley, this presentation will focus upon the rewards of participation in and through new media and technology. Specifically, I focus upon the ways in which youth participate in networked publics that enable opportunities for developing recognition, reputation, specialized knowledge and feedback that extend beyond their place-based knowledge networks. At the same time, I suggest that for many youth and their families in Silicon Valley, place and place-based networks play a central role in shaping how youth come to understand and value their participation in networked public culture. Understanding this interplay is thus critical to understanding the rewards of new media participation.

3) Emerging futurities in Muslim Southeast Asia: science fantasy, digital development and the urge for moral technology

Bart Barendregt (Leiden University)

Thinking of the future is hardly possible without reference to the role of digital information technologies or the growing impact of knowledge industries. But how relevant are these concepts outside the Northern Hemisphere? Said to be on its way by 2020, Islamic Information Society posits an alternative to both Western ideas on the Global Village, as well as the hijacking of Islamic futures by radical conservatives. In this paper I examine how majority Muslim countries in Southeast Asia have increasingly become role models in Islam’s quest for a digital future. I will do so by targeting the history of technological developments from the top down, and manifested in state run and commercial techno-nationalist projects, but also through competing claims to the future as portrayed in the current fusion of modern popular culture (pop music, fashion, gadgetry) with religion and futurist thinking.

4) Phones, foreigners, and the fluctuating digital divide in Southern Mozambique

Julie Archambault (SOAS)

“I can’t wait for the World Cup”, explained a young Mozambican man during a recent phone conversation, “more tourists means more mobile phones and iPods for us”. For many in Mozambique, crime is not a way of life but rather a tactic, amongst others, to address needs and desires unfulfilled by more conventional means. Mobile phones participate in this economy as coveted objects and as communication tools that, in turn, lubricate the circulation of consumer goods. Many phones initially make it to Southern Mozambique in the pockets of tourists before being inserted into the local pool of goods that petty crime stirs up further. In the city of Inhambane, most of the male youth I work with have spent some time in jail, almost all of them for petty theft, often involving mobile phones. In this paper, I draw on their experiences to unpack the notion of ‘digital divide’ and to tease out the role mobile phones and mobile phone communication play in the workings of petty crime in the region. By looking into the circulation of mobile phones, I hope to shed light on broader economic dynamics, while contributing to our understanding of the socio-economic impacts of new technologies.

5) Culture, conflict and translocal communication: mobile technology and politics in rural West Bengal, India

Sirpa Tenhunen (University of Helsinki)

As media reports of political movements from various locations have shown, mobile technology can be a powerful political instrument. Howard Rheingold (2002) has famously argued that the new information technologies and especially mobile phones enable smart mobs. “Smart mob” is an evocative and yet problematic term in emphasizing the unruliness of protestors thus detracting attention from their patterns of action and meanings. This article seeks to understand the relationship between politics and mobile technology by examining how political activists in rural West Bengal, India use mobile phones for their daily political work. I illustrate how riots and protests relate to the increase in translocal communication enabled by phones. I also demonstrate how the political use of mobile technology for extra ordinary events is grounded in the social and political processes of ordinary everyday life and draws from the local understanding of politics by emphasizing certain aspects of it.

6) Migration and virtual community 2.0

Lee Komito (University College Dublin)

Explorations of the impact of new technologies on community and social life often reflect a utopian or anti-utopian polarisation by framing new technologies either as inimical to community (especially when framed in terms of social capital) or as enabling a redefined community composed of ‘networked individuals’. In the context of migration, transnational ethnic groups are manifest through email, discussion groups and web pages, and the utopian/anti-utopian duality revolves around technologies supporting long-term durable social relations versus fragile and instrumental relations subject to easy disruption, and whether technologically mediated social relations can support ‘virtual communities’. Studies of social media practices of non-nationals living in Ireland suggests that information exchange and coordination of activities via these new media are enabling durable, non-local social groups that complement migrants’ other social relations. This is not only transforming the migration process, but also illustrates the problems inherent in any utopian/anti-utopian duality.

Mobile Phone Studies in Latin America Research Collection

We have started a research collection of Mobile Phone studies conducted in Latin America. You can see and contribute to this collection in Mendeley.

Mobile rewards paper – notes

Mobile rewards: a critical review of the Mobiles for Development (M4D) literature

A paper to the Media Anthropology Network workshop, The Rewards of Media. EASA2010: Crisis and imagination (24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010)

Francisco Osorio and John Postill
Sheffield Hallam University


Recent academic and mainstream media debates about Wikipedia, Farmville and other new(ish) forms of non-remunerated digital labour (BBC 2010, Pink 2009, Shirky 2010). Why spend so much time (and money) on seemingly wasteful new media practices?

Recent turn to practice theory in media and ICT studies (Couldry 2004, Bräuchler and Postill 2010). What are its implications for the study of mobile phones and livelihoods in developing countries?

In this paper we first review the Mobiles for Development (M4D) literature, then we propose a practice-theoretical approach to mobile livelihoods that takes inspiration from Warde’s (2005) seminal essay on consumption and theories of practice, esp. the rewards of practice.

M4D review

An interdisciplinary field emerging out of ICT4D (ICTs for development).

Main areas of research interest and policy recommendations include: mobiles and market performance (Abraham 2007, Aker 2008, Jensen 2007, Muto and Yamano 2008), micro-entrepreneurs (Donner 2004, 2005, Jagun et al 2008, Molony 2005), infrastructure (Castells et al 2007), regulatory policy (Goodman 2005, Lane et al 2006), poverty reduction (Bhavnani 2008, Souter et al 2005), information poverty (Aminuzzaman et al 2003), mobile banking and money (Ivatury and Pickens 2006, Morawczynski 2008, Torma 2006) mobiles themselves as markets (Mujica 2007), emerging middle classes (Wallis 2011, Wei 2006).

Main geographical regions: so far sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia bulk of research. Other developing regions such as Latin America and Middle East-North Africa neglected to date, with some exceptions (Castells et al 2007, Frost and Sullivan 2006, Mujica 2007).

High hopes in many M4D studies (e.g. Kyem and Le Marie 2006), tempered with concerns. Bhavnani (2008) says that studies have shown mobiles can lower negative phenomena (corruption, crime, high prices…) and raise positive ones (education, efficiency, health) yet you still need access and pricing so that low-income can join in.

Critical perspectives on M4D

1. Negative:

Hype over transformational power of mobiles; in fact Africans still passive recipients of technologies from elsewhere (Alzouma 2008).

2. Nuanced:

Careful with old silver/magic bullet idea, now applied to mobiles (Acker and Mbiti 2010, Castells et al 2007). Don’t forget negative impacts: consumerist ‘status’ of owning mobile, ‘addiction’, crime, conflict arising from rapid change, uncertainty over user’s location, problems with trust (Bruijn et al 2009). Mobiles can in fact reinforce patriarchy and surveillance by employers and patrons (Horst 2008, Lyon 20nn, Wallis 2011). Indeed, they may even increase poverty, says Heeks (2008) provocatively.

Claims about better market performance wrought by mobiles (Jensen 2007) challenged. That may be the case, but these improvements may still co-exist with entrenched supply chains that do not eliminate intermediaries or the need to travel (for trust-building, owing to nature of business, etc) – so you can have both market continuity and change side-by-side (Jagun et al 2008).

Many M4D researchers concerned that poor people in developing countries ‘misusing’ mobiles for non-development purposes, says Donner (2009). Instead, we should move beyond return on investment model of M4D and take seriously the social pleasures of mobiles, for these can help improve both quality of life and standard of living (Donner 2009). Also must differentiate conditions on the ground, e.g. different types of micro-entrepreneurs (taxi drivers, retailers, knife sharpeners) may value different or no mobile features (portability, person-to-person, interlacing, etc.) (Donner 2007). And commodities will vary as well in their perishability, transport to markets, etc, e.g. bananas vs. maize (Muto and Yamano 2009).

Mobile anthropology

This paper rooted in anthropology of media and communication, esp. emerging research area around mobiles (Barendregt 2008, Horst and Miller 2006, Ito and Matsuda 2006,  Stammler 2007, Tenhunen 2008). Stress on non-metropolitan and/or cross-cultural lived experience and mobile practices. Tremendous diversity – actual mobile practices can only be understood in cultural, linguistic and historical context, e.g. continued importance of orality in many developing countries (Bruijn et al 2009, Hahn and Kibora 2008, Stammler 2009) – and indeed in the affluent North (Born 1997).

Horst and Miller (2006): poor Jamaicans use mobiles not to make money but to get money at critical times. Mobiles don’t herald shift to ‘networked individualism’ (Wellman) or ‘network society’ (Castells). Jamaicans have always maintained dispersed networks and valued what they call ‘link-up’.

Tenhunen (2008) fieldwork in West Bengal village. The ‘duality’ of mobiles (see also Morawczynski 2008): they reinvigorate village sociality and kinship relations but also enable change along with other processes, e.g. women more autonomy within traditional patriarchy, old village leadership further eroded.  Horst and Miller are an inspiration, but they downplay change by focussing on Jamaican cultural uniqueness; they overlook ability people have to strive for change. Practice theorists also neglect human agency.

Mobile rewards

A range of existing explations of mobile adoption in developing world: psychological (BBC 2010), effects (Jensen 2007), cost-benefits (Castells et al 2007, Sinha 2005), values (Souter et al 2005), motivations (Sinha 2005), uses and gratifications (Donner 2004), etc. Instead we propose practice theory because it can allow us to capture the multiplicity and messiness of actual mobile-related practices without foreclosing the inquiry.

Warde (2005) seminal article on consumption and practice theory. Practices generate their own patterns of consumption and rewards. Rewards can be of many kinds, and can be intrinsic or extrinsic to the practice itself. How can we apply this to the study of mobile livelihoods in the global South? Tentative proposal:


  • follow the (mobile) practices: what practice-specific patterns of consumption and reward do they generate, if any?
  • follow the (mobile) practitioners: taxi-drivers, shopkeepers, prostitutes, etc.
  • what are the key social (kinship, friendship, ethnicity…) and technical (ubiquity, customisability, reach, Donner 2008) practices of their varied social universes (i.e. their socio-technical practices, Wallis 2011)? (some mobile-specific methods need to be devised)
  • don’t neglect people’s ability to strive for social and economic change, and how mobiles may be part of this (Tenhunen 2008)

Diachronically (see Heeks 2008):

  • what are the main changes and continuities (Tenhunen 2008) within a given practical universe from Year X to Year Y?
  • what part did mobiles play in these changes and continuities?
  • in what ways, if at all, have mobiles contributed to the ongoing ‘blurring’ of lives and livelihoods (Donner 2009, see also Christensen and Røpke 2010) within these universes? e.g. personal/business call blur in Uganda.
  • how did users’ life-stages and positionalities (Wallis 2011) shape their social and economic uses of mobiles?




Further research


see this blog (via Search function)