Mobile phones in the Pacific: a book review
By Amanda H A Watson The moral economy of mobile phones: Pacific Islands perspectives is a collection edited by Robert J. Foster and Heather A. Horst. It presents anthropological research from the Pacific: primarily Papua New Guinea (PNG), but also Fiji and Vanuatu.
The book introduces the notion of a ‘moral economy’ consisting of intersecting relationships and interactions between mobile telecommunication companies, state authorities, and consumers. While much research on mobile phones tends to focus on individuals and how they access, use and perceive their mobile phones, the editors highlight the varied influences that can shape both the range of choices available to consumers and their subsequent behaviour. State authorities make (or do not make) regulatory decisions. Meanwhile, companies make business decisions, develop marketing strategies, produce advertising materials, design network coverage, and so on. The intersections between individuals, companies and the government make for a complex and fluid situation worthy of investigation.
David Lipset explains that in Darapap village, Murik Lakes, East Sepik Province, PNG, only one location has reliable mobile phone signal: a doorway in one family’s house. Thus, this one dependable phone hanging from a thread of string in an internal doorway in a private home is used like a communal phone. The phone is not thought of or used as a private asset. The phone acts as a link between urban and rural localities, allowing people in town to ring and leave messages for villagers they wish to reach.
Holly Wardlow presents the case of mobile phone use among women in Tari, Hela Province, PNG. In a context with limited electricity access, about two-thirds of Wardlow’s research participants have mobile phones. The technology enables wives living in their husbands’ villages to have contact with natal kin – this is a transformational change in people’s lives, also …read more