Sep 23, 2011

Mobile Technology and Politics in Rural West Bengal, India

An interesting article from our project member, Professor Sirpa Tehnunen, has been published by ETHNOS, Journal of Anthropology, Volume 76, Issue 3. It is titled

Culture, Conflict, and Translocal Communication:

Mobile Technology and Politics in Rural West Bengal, India

Abstract [from Taylor & Francis online]

As media reports of political movements from various locations have shown, mobile technology can be a powerful political instrument. This paper examines how political activists in West Bengal, India use mobile phones for their daily political work. I seek ways to recognize the disruptive and political potential of mobile technology without ignoring its social and cultural rootedness. 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. My article confirms the cultural continuity amidst the increase in translocal relationships but it also pinpoints how cultures harbour conflicts and alternative discourses which translocal communication helps to amplify.

Click here for a preview of Sirpa's article.
Click here to download full text (free from most university networks).

Picture source: The Economist.

Sep 12, 2011


Our Perpetual Crentsil is attending a conference titled Sexuality, AIDS and Religion: Transnational Dynamics in Africa  taking place at School of Anthropology, University of Oxford, 28-30 September, 2011. Here is the abstract of her paper that she will present.


The opportunities for using mobile technologies in Ghana to improve health services and especially to support initiatives in the HIV/AIDS sector are enormous. Mobile phones are the latest gadgets in town; a huge number of people have mobile phones and there is a range of innovative ways in which the devices are being used. This paper analyses the appropriation of mobile phones in Ghana by exploring what new social alternatives these devices enable in healthcare communication and how these assemblages relate to culture and cultural change, sex/sexuality, and HIV in Ghana. The ethnographic description relates the appropriation of phones in counselling and treatment of AIDS patients, health information dissemination, and how the mobile phone is fast becoming associated with sex and could threaten HIV prevention in Ghana. Women have long used their sexual and reproductive capacities to create desirable economic and kin relationships (Cole 2010). Family members are happy that a relative owns a phone no matter how it was acquired, and men use mobile phones as bait to have sexual relationships with young women. Material acquisition and ostentation are denounced but people strive to own certain goods to mark status, and women themselves are considered notorious for requiring the newest mobile phone models from their romantic partners. People live in worlds governed by kinship, rules, norms, ethics, and moralities. In Christianity there is a hierarchy of soul and body, and one’s body has to avoid acts that threaten the future heavenly joy of one’s soul (Dumont 1986). 

HIV infections in Africa are mostly through heterosexual contacts. Hence, those who become infected are seen as being ‘punished’ for their ‘sins’. The ‘Missionary model’ (Watney 1989) by the churches and other religious bodies in many African societies emphasise abstinence as the best practice to avoid HIV infection. But abstinence is less popular than the condom use being advocated in other circles, and yet there is a low condom culture in Ghana. In this age of AIDS people still seem less concerned with sexual danger and HIV. Reports are rife about men having sex with young women and recording the act on mobile phones for circulation, while some church pastors own many phones and call to female members of their churches for sexual favours in hotels. The data for this paper is based on my prior research on HIV/AIDS in Ghana and a study of mobile telephony and healthcare delivery services in rural Ghana.
Keywords: appropriation of mobile telephones, values, sex and sexuality, HIV prevention, Ghana

Email Perpetual Crenstil:

Want to read Perpetual's doctoral dissertation Death, Ancestors, and HIV/AIDS among the Akan of Ghana? Click here.

Picture sources: Oxford, Ghana map.

Aug 29, 2011

Pictures from Cameroon

Our doctoral researcher, Sanna Tawah, spent three months in Cameroon this year finding out how "buyam-sellam women" relied on their mobile phones in managing their businesses in the food markets. Here are some interesting pictures from her trip around Bamenda.

A stock of watermelon ready to be sold for re-sellers. 

On the onion phone.

Market carriers.

Onion ladies at the food market.

Onion ladies with kids at the local food market.

Tomato baskets ready for re-sellers.

Mobile Money ad.

Copyright of pictures: Sanna Tawah.

May 17, 2011


Current figures suggest that there are over 16 million mobile phone users in Ghana, out of a population of 24 million. With mobile phones almost everywhere in Ghana, I have been wondering who needs letter writing today. Has letter writing lost its value?

Just over a decade or so ago, letter writing was the primary means of communication in Ghana. People spent valuable time writing letters to friends, family members, and lovers. Those with poor handwriting often looked for someone with a 'nice' handwriting to write their letter for them. In secondary schools, universities and other tertiary settings it was a great joy to receive a letter from loved ones. Both male and female students could show their letters to friends and keep them under their pillows or in their boxes to read them many times.

People who could not read always took their letters to educated people to read for them; those who were not able to write due to illiteracy looked for others to write their letters. Professional letter writers charged a fee for writing; in the villages, such a letter writer was very important--usually an opinion leader who commanded great respect and was often privy to affairs of the village even if he (mostly men) was not a native of that village.

Many parents used letter writing to gauge their children's performances at school. A parent would ask his or her child (or sometimes any pupil) to write letters for them. Failure to do so was usually seen as the child not being good academically and that money was simply being wasted on him or her at school. The child who agreed to write the letter went through the long process of the parent dictating everything sentence by sentence or in two sentences at a time in the local language (Twi, Fante, Ga, Ewe, etc). The letter was to be written in English, which meant the child would have to translate from the local language during the dictation, at the end of which the parent would demand that the child read out all what had been written; the child who could not do this verbatim was usually considered poor at school.

Letter writing has virtually vanished nowadays. I wonder how many times people mention words such as 'envelopes', stamps', 'postmaster', etc. I guess people hardly write letters these days and the Post Offices are not crowded with people who are coming to post (snail mail) letters.

Has the mobile phone been a blessing? In the past, communicating effectively could be extremely difficult. It could take days, weeks, and even months for letters to get to their intended destinations, that is, if it did not get missing in the process. There was also the danger of the letter being opened, especially those coming from abroad and which were suspected to contain money. Easy access to mobile phones means that there can be no excuses for delayed deliveries or the letter never reaching its intended destination. You cannot use the excuse that the letter you sent may have been lost or stolen in the process of delivery. No excuses about long delays. Oh, the magic of mobile technology, although it is putting the brakes on other areas of social life in Ghana.

By Perpetual Crentsil

Mar 10, 2011

Cell Phones more Dangerous than Kalashnikovs

Prof. Sirpa Tenhunen.
Picture source: Univ. of Helsinki.
A member of our project, Professor Sirpa Tenhunen, was interviewed by the Finnish Broadcasting Company about the significance of mobile phones in Africa and Asia, especially in the context of national revolt. "In the view of ruling elite, cell phones are more dangerous than Kalashnikovs", said Prof. Tenhunen in the inteview.

Tenhunen also described how cell phones are more common than TV, newspapers or computers in the developing countries. In Africa, for example, a third of the population have a cell phone whereas the internet is used by only six percent of Africans.
Cell phones speed up the practice of politics. In the past before cell phones it took one month to organize a general strike. Nowadays, using text messages it takes only ten minutes. The political power of the mobile phone is based on its invisibility. A revolt can be mobilized hidden from the ruling power. The ways for the state to fight back is to monitor citizens' mobile communication and, at times, even close down the supporting infrastructure.

Watch the interview (in Finnish) here.
Read the whole news article (in Finnish) here.

Mar 8, 2011

Hello world!

We are a group of five anthropologists doing research on mobile technology, gender and development. We are based in the Department of History and Ethnology of University of Jyväskylä, Finland but our field research areas are in South Asia and Africa.

You can see our project website for further infomation about our project. In this blog we will publish project updates such as abstracts, conference papers, articles, pictures and news related to our field of research. Shorter updates are published through our Twitter account. Please feel free to suggest any links and materials you feel should be published in this blog.

Moreover, all comments are welcome!