À procura de rede : redistribution networks and the gendered modalities of mobile phone use in Southern Mozambique - PDF

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À procura de rede : redistribution networks and the gendered modalities of mobile phone use in Southern Mozambique Julie Soleil Archambault Conference Paper Nº5 II Conferência IESE Dinâmicas da Pobreza

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À procura de rede : redistribution networks and the gendered modalities of mobile phone use in Southern Mozambique Julie Soleil Archambault Conference Paper Nº5 II Conferência IESE Dinâmicas da Pobreza e Padrões de Acumulação Económica em Moçambique À procura de rede : redistribution networks and the gendered modalities of mobile phone use in Southern Mozambique by Julie Soleil Archambault Conference Dynamics of poverty and patterns of economic accumulation in Mozambique, organized by IESE Maputo, of April, Abstract Mobile phones have made their entry into Mozambican society at a time of widening disparity and have been acting as conspicuous symbols of social differentiation by visibly distinguishing the haves from the have-nots. With ever increasing ownership, they have also become indispensable communication tools used to navigate a rapidly changing socio-economic environment. In this paper, I examine the scope and texture of the mobile phone revolution in Southern Mozambique in order to shed light on contemporary dynamics of poverty and changing patterns of redistribution. Drawing on fieldwork I conducted in the city of Inhambane amongst young adults, I show how phone use plays a decisive role in the negotiation of inequalities. More specifically, I look into the phone s role in facilitating the consolidation and management of redistribution networks based on intimate relationships, while situating these dynamics within gendered livelihood strategies. I show, however, that, by making these networks more effective, mobile phones are also rendering them more extractive. In order to make sense of these dynamics, I present the perspectives of both young men and women by looking into some of their experiences with mobile phones in their everyday lives. I conclude the paper by providing an assessment of the socio-economic ramifications of these dynamics. 2 Julie S. Archambault is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and has conducted field research amongst young adults in Inhambane. She received her MSc and her BSc in Anthropology from the University of Montreal, Canada. 3 À procura de rede : redistribution networks and the gendered modalities of mobile phone use in Southern Mozambique The title of this paper, À procura de rede (in search of network), refers to both the pursuit of cellular network coverage and the pursuit of social networks, in a livelihood strategy perspective. By exploring mobile phone practices amongst young adults in Inhambane, I hope to show that the link between both kinds of networks goes beyond a strictly semantic one. Not only are both kinds of networks fragile, fluctuating and at times unreliable, one also increasingly depends on the other to function. In this paper, I examine the scope and texture of the mobile phone revolution in Southern Mozambique in an attempt to shed light on contemporary dynamics of poverty and changing patterns of redistribution and accumulation. More specifically, I look into the phone s role in facilitating the consolidation and management of redistribution networks based on intimate relationships, while situating these dynamics within gendered livelihood strategies. I show how, by making these networks more effective, mobile phone communication is also rendering them more extractive. In order to make sense of these dynamics, I present the perspectives of both young men and women by looking into some of their experiences with mobile phones in their everyday lives. I conclude the paper by providing an assessment of the socio-economic ramifications of these dynamics. 1 Methodology The paper is based on 18 months of fieldwork I carried out in and around the city of Inhambane between 2006 and 2007 as a research student in the department of Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London). 2 In addition to information collected through participant-observation, I conducted in-depth interviews with 46 young adults aged between 19 and 1 Some sections of this paper are developed in more detail in an article submitted for the Politique africaine special issue on Mozambique. The article is entitled The mobile phone revolution: a chapter in the Mozambican success story? and is currently under review. I also discuss the redefinition of gender relations in Mobile phones and the commercialisation of relationships: expressions of masculinity in Southern Mozambique, in Gender and Modernity in Youth Cultures, edited by K. Brison and S. Dewey, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, forthcoming. 2 The research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). 4 29, concerning relationship issues as well as livelihood strategies, and how these tied into mobile phone practices. I also administered a survey on mobile phone use to th grade students in the city of Inhambane. The paper is also based on various interviews with key individuals involved, in one way or another, with relationship issues, 3 along with ten of my informants parents. The research setting In the peri-urban areas of Inhambane where most of the research was carried out, residents live in close proximity, as land is scarce and expensive, especially since these areas absorbed many of the people displaced by the war in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The majority of the houses are made out of local material and cooking is done on wood fires. Most households rely on urban agriculture and/or petty trade, along with social networks to make ends meet, and many periodically face alimentation problems. Yet, amidst this precarity, a growing number of households now have electricity as well as running water, and cement houses are being erected here and there. Few of the young adults I worked with had founded independent households and most were living with their parents, often in women-headed households. Some were attending school, others had recently graduated, a handful had a regular source of income from employment, and many were not doing anything, but all aspired to a similar lifestyle in which the consumption of modern consumer goods figured prominently. In this context, mobile phones have been acting as conspicuous symbols of social differentiation, by visibly distinguishing the haves from the havenots (cf. Dibakana 2002), thus creating what has been described as an internal digital divide (cf. Bridges 2001, quoted by Nielinger 2006: 21). When mcel, Mozambique s leading cellular network provider, started operating in the country in 1997, network coverage was limited to Maputo. Following the Telecommunications Act of 1999, which set the stage for the deregulation process, Vodacom 4 answered a call for tender and started operating in the country in late 2003 (Greenberg and Sadowsky 2006: 26). Since then, phone ownership has been rapidly increasing, especially in urban centers. For example, phone 3 I interviewed the police chief, the secretaries of various neighborhoods, priests and pastors, nurses as well as curandeiros (traditional healers). 4 Vodacom, which is owned by Telkom and Vodafone (UK), operates in a number of Southern African countries. President Armando Guebuza became a partner of Vodacom, through Intelec Holding of which he is a share holder. The announcement coincided with the declaration of Vodacom as 100% made in Mozambique (Carmona 2007: 1-3). 5 penetration rose from 0,28 % (2000) to 12,6 % (2006) in the space of six years. 5 In 2009, mcel remains the main provider with over two-and-a-half million clients, while Vodacom recently reached the one million mark. This brings the total of mobile phone clients in the country to an estimated three-and-a-half million. 6 Looking at specific segments of the population, the figures are even more striking. According to my survey, for instance, 71% of grade 12 students in Inhambane were mobile phone owners in In this paper, I hope to show that, in addition to being a source of symbolic capital, the phone has also become an indispensable communication tool used to navigate a rapidly changing socio-economic environment (Vigh 2006), of which the mobile phone revolution is both reflexive and constitutive. In other words, I argue that phone ownership testifies to socioeconomic disparity while also playing a decisive role in the negotiation of inequalities, by facilitating the redistribution of resources, as well as by challenging gender hierarchies. Desenrascar with the help of mobile phones Many have shown that the implementation of structural adjustment, state retrenchment and economic liberalisation had translated into deepening poverty, amidst growing disparity (Hanlon 2007, Newitt 2002, Pfeiffer 2002). This perspective is echoed in the narratives of Inhambane residents, many of whom believe their living conditions have deteriorated in recent years. When describing their livelihood strategies, many use the verb desenrascar, a term which underscores one s creativity in resolving problems, often by having recourse to unconventional means (cf. Vigh 2006). Mobile phones are also seen as playing a part in one s tactics to desenrascar. To start, mobile phones help in keeping families connected and informed, especially in places like Southern Mozambique where individuals are scattered for a variety of reasons including work, education, as well as war-time displacement. My research also indicates that mobile phone communication plays a vital role in the distribution of remittances, 7 by helping coordinate redistribution, and thus enabling those at the receiving end to play a more active role in the redistribution process. Remittances are then usually delivered through more traditional channels, by the migrants themselves, by other returning migrants, or through the intermediary of young men 5 Interview with Sr. Massingue Apala of the Instituto Nacional das Communicações de Moçambique, INCM offices in Maputo, November 13, and both accessed on April 30, See Horst and Miller (2006) for a Jamaican example and ISRG (2006), for a South African one. 6 working on public transport. In addition to their integration into redistribution networks that are essentially kin-based, my research also indicates that mobile phones are increasingly used to consolidate and manage other networks of redistribution which are rather based on intimate relationships, either actual or potential. These are the networks I focus on in this paper. 8 When I returned to Inhambane for a short visit in the winter of 2008, one of my ex-neighbours, an old man known as Takdir, called me over. He looked concerned. They ve had to send you back?, he said in a way that sounded more like a compassionate statement than a question. I ll help you then, I ll tell you the answer to your research he went on to say, youth here use their phones to namorar [to develop intimate relationships]. Some say that phones help with business but that s not true; phones are for namorar. 9 Of course, youth in Inhambane use their phones to do various things, namely to contact relatives, to coordinate meetings or to plan drug transactions. At times, youth also use their phones to place requests to others for various things like phone credit, school fees, transport money or hair extensions. And, like Takdir pointed out, very often they use their phones to namorar, to flirt, to coordinate romantic rendez-vous, to insult a rival or to impress a potential lover. I now turn to the gendered modalities of phone use amongst young adults in Inhambane and focus on the phone s role in facilitating the consolidation and management of redistribution networks based on intimate relationships. Unlike men, women in Inhambane often find it difficult to estimate how much they spend on phone credit. Moreover, I have yet to come across a woman who had given up her phone due to economic constraints, whereas men who take a break from phone use are not uncommon. This is mainly due to the ways in which the costs of telecommunication tend to be unevenly distributed along gender lines. Phone etiquette mirrors broader social relations and tends to reproduce socioeconomic hierarchies, namely the normative ideals of the man as provider and of the woman as dependent. 10 As such, men are expected to cover most of the costs incurred when communicating with women who, for their part can attempt to reverse the charges by sending a bip and waiting to 8 It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the business opportunities directly generated by the phone industry, as well as the way phone communication may render small businesses more efficient. 9 Conversation with Takdir, a man in his 60s, Inhambane, August 3, Phone etiquette serves a more or less fluid guideline and actual practices vary according to the specificities of the situation. 7 be called back, that is, by phoning a number and hanging up before the other person answers or by sending a Please-call-me message, a free messages asking to be called back. 11 In a group discussion on phone etiquette in Inhambane, Antonio, a 22 year-old man who had recently completed secondary school, made the following comment: Myself, to speak about my case, epa 12 I think that comparing with women, comparing with my girlfriend, I think that my girlfriend gets money on a daily basis [from her parents], but I only get money maybe once a month and I spend it straight away. Within a week I have no more, I m done (to tchunado) but she has per day 50 or 100 MTn. 13 Even sometimes, she lends me money and then says that I ll have to give her back double, as a joke, you know. So she has money but in terms of communications, she only sends bips!!! And then I phone her. With the money she lent me yesterday, I bought credit, but she sends me a bip, you see, so I phone Or you meet a girl today and she gives you her number. The next day [ ], she doesn t even phone you, or if she does, it s only to give you hope (moral) and then she ll send a bip and you have to respond. And to feel that you re a man epa, you have to respond. 14 Young men like Antonio, and others I worked with, were auto-critical of allowing themselves to spend phone credit this way; auto-critical yet resigned and willing to play the game, and many saw bearing these costs as an expression of maleness (see also Batson-Savage 2007). Most of the young women I worked with would send bips on a regular basis in the hopes of being called back and often with the intention of placing requests for specific things. To convince me of how easy it was to get things with her phone, Mimi, a 25 year-old woman, once made a demonstration. She started by sending a Please-call-me to one of her suitors. A few seconds later, the man in question phoned back Mimi who then asked him to buy bread for her. Within an 11 Clients of both mcel and Vodacom, Mozambique s two mobile phone operators, get ten free Please-call-me messages per day. Unlike with a Please-call-me, one needs to have a minimum of credit in order to send a bip, and there is always the risk that that person receiving the bip will answer his/her phone, thus eating the credit of the bip sender. 12 Epa is a widely used Portuguese interjection. 13 At the time, 100 Mtn was worth about Group discussion, Inhambane, November 18, hour, the man was at the door with a bag of bread. Not only had he paid for the bread, he had also disbursed for the call asking for the bread. Once he had left, Mimi giggled and said that men believe that pacieça ganha vitória! (patience brings victory). 15 In reference to such practices, Inhambane youth use the verb chular. Chular is a Mozambican Portuguese term defined as living at the cost of someone, 16 or as taking advantage of someone economically, usually under sexual pretenses. Chular can be understood as a mode of desenrascar embedded into the local informal sexual economy. A chular relationship is similar yet distinct from a transactional sexual relationship (Cole 2004) in that the terms of the exchange are more ambiguous. As a young woman pointed out, chular is a game. If you don t want to give sex, basta ter bom papo para lhe tapar a vista (you need to know how to talk to blind him). 17 In other words, women s access to material gain in chular relationships rests on the pretense of an exchange of sexual services which may or may not materialize. Some women will not readily admit to ever playing this game whereas others boast about their exploits. Women who are very good at chular manage to receive various goods like drinks, espetadas, 18 phone credit, clothing, or bread while only occasionally exchanging sexual favours. Mikas, an educated and well employed 31 year-old man, often complained about women taking advantage of him, of enslaving him, as he called it. One day in my company, he received a phone call from a young woman and already imagining the motive of her call, he answered on loud speaker. The woman went straight to the point and asked him for phone credit. After hanging up, Mikas started laughing: I'm a fool, I'm stupid , he said, I will give her credit and then she will use it to phone another man! . He then told me about a girlfriend who had recently contacted him to let him know that someone had stolen all her clothes. Mikas explained that he gave her money (1000 MTn), along with 80 MTn top-up so that she would phone him and have no excuse of not doing so. She did find excuses though and as Mikas cynically concluded, Whenever I phone her, she is either on her way to church or to school! My findings are in many ways similar to those presented by Bagnol and Chamo (2003) as well as by Hawkins et al. s research in Maputo. In Inhambane, chular relationships also tend to be trans- 15 Field notes June 28, Interview with Carolina, a 22 year-old woman in Inhambane, July 23, Grilled meat on a stick sold around drinking venues. 9 generational and men who fall victim to requests placed via the phone are mostly older employed men like Mikas. This said, younger men are nevertheless also asked to supply smaller things like hair extensions, lunch money, or phone credit. Given the economic marginalisation many young men in Inhambane face, living up to these demands is often very challenging, if not at times impossible. And as the following vignette illustrates, some young women use the young men s shortcomings to justify certain practices. When I first met Bela, a 21 year old student, she was involved with a violent young man who regularly cheated on her. He would then buy her gifts and ask for her forgiveness. Bela later left her boyfriend for an educated 27 year old man who she described as romantic and respectful. She never saw him with another girl, nor did she ever find anything suspicious in his mobile phone. Her new boyfriend had a problem though: he never gave her anything. And as Bela put it: If you see me wearing nice pants, it s quite obvious that it's not my father who bought them for me. But [my boyfriend] doesn't ask me where I got them. After a few months of seeing each other, he still hasn't given me anything, not even 50 MTn to buy Stayfree. 19 He never asked me where I get my perfume from. He comments on my hairdo but he doesn't ask me how I pay for it. He must help me if he wants me to look pretty. She concluded: At least he gets upset whenever I receive an SMS! . 20 Despite being a good man (educated, romantic and faithful) he was not a good provider. And while Bela carefully monitored her boyfriend s activities by inspecting his mobile phone, she used her own phone to manage relationships that could help her answer desires unfulfilled by her boyfriend. A number of young women I worked with in Inhambane have, like Bela, come to the conclusion that they could enjoy better living conditions by engaging in relationships with various men and have developed crafty ways to use their sexuality as a monnaie d echange. No one
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