SBE-RCUK Lead Agency: The effects of mobile phones on gendered social networks, decision-making and vulnerability

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Anthropology

Abstract

Mobile phones have been heralded as transformative new tools to reduce global poverty. Scholars and development professionals alike have pointed out that phones, and other information and communication technologies (ICTs), can greatly reduce barriers to information, promote market efficiency, increase workers returns to labor, boost savings, and expedite emergency response. An alternative perspective, however, is that phones can magnify situations rather than transform them. Valuable tools may be less valuable to people who are not well positioned in society like minorities, women, or the poor. Furthermore, in rural areas telecommunications infrastructure can be patchy, as can access to resources like health care, and environmental shocks like droughts can be devastating. The project asks: under what conditions do mobile phones empower or disempower vulnerable groups, especially women? This question will be investigated in pastoralist Maasai communities in Tanzania.

To address this question, the research will test hypotheses regarding the effects of mobile phones on: (1) the structures and functions of women's and men's social networks; (2) their access to information and decision-making; and (3) their capacities to respond to different types of shocks. Over the 3-year term of the project, we will conduct qualitative group and stakeholder interviews (n=60), standardized surveys of individual women and men (n=370/year) and spatial measures of cellular signal across a broad geographic area. We will analyze these data using standard descriptive, multivariate, and spatial modeling tools.

This project will provide early research on the effects of ICTs on power dynamics within hierarchical societies. It will also contribute to the scholarship on women's empowerment by examining the effects of mobile phones on aspects of women's empowerment, including women's capacities to respond to shocks. The broader impacts of this research include dissemination of findings to communities and NGOs, graduate training, and elementary education in Tanzania

Planned Impact

The project will engage local communities, students, conservation and development NGOs in the development and outcomes of the research.

The primary broader impacts of this research involve types of engagement in Tanzania, including: the dissemination of research findings to communities and NGOs, graduate training and elementary education.

First, we will conduct public presentations in each study community to present our findings and solicit feedback. Our assistants will help with setting these up. Second, we will present study findings to local NGOs working on issues of indigenous development and conservation NGOs (e.g., the Dorobo Fund, Tanzania Natural Resources Forum, and the Honeyguide Foundation). Third, we will coordinate with the Dept. of Zoology at the University of Dar es Salaam to organize a workshop in Arusha for graduate students working on projects involving mobile technology, women's decision making and vulnerability. This workshop will involve Maasai and NGO representatives identified in earlier meetings. Meetings (years 2 and 3) will address research findings and opportunities for improved risk management and technology-based interventions. Fourth, we will work with Martha Mariko Kilae (Teacher/ Administrator with 12+ years of experience, Loiborsoit Elementary School) to design a short, age-appropriate educational module focused on mobile technologies, gendered social networks and problem solving. We will begin designing this module in year 2 and complete the module and train elementary school teachers in the 3-4 communities in Year 3. This project will also support graduate training at Virginia Tech and data infrastructure at the participating universities. A MS student will be supported as a research assistant in Year 2. Training will include fieldwork (supported through other means), mixed methods data analyses, and professional development (incl. conference attendance). Efforts will be made to recruit a student from an under-served community (e.g. first generation college student from Appalachia). Lastly, de-identified quantitative and qualitative data concerned with livelihoods, social networks, social capital, and vulnerability will be archived and searchable at Virginia Tech Libraries. Among other applications, these data complement NSF-supported, agent-based modeling of this study population at UNC and CU.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Talk at geography conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk given at the American Association of Geographers titled 'Mobile phones and shifting Maasai social networks in northern Tanzania' presenting preliminary findings of the research. The audience was primarily composed of academics and the talk generated questions and interest.
https://aag.secure-abstracts.com/AAG%20Annual%20Meeting%202019/abstracts-gallery/20520
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Talk at geography conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A conference paper given to the American Association of Geographers in Washington DC titled ' Mobile phones, social relations and the gatekeepers to gender equality in Maasai households'. This reported on the gender dimension of the work, carried out by a graduate student. The audience was primarily academics and the presentation sparked interest and questions.
https://aag.secure-abstracts.com/AAG%20Annual%20Meeting%202019/abstracts-gallery/20999
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019