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.