Precarious technoscapes: forced mobility and mobile connections at the urban margins

by Peter Chonka and Jutta Bakonyi

06 Dec 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Abstract: Displaced people settling at the margins of Somali cities live in conditions of extreme precarity. They are also active users of information and communications technology (ICTs), employing mobile phones to maintain social networks, obtain information, navigate urban space and labour markets, transfer and store money, and receive aid. This article explores mobile connectivity from the perspective of displaced people, analysing how they experience mobile phones, and the connections they enable in the context of conflict and urban reconstruction in Somalia. The findings caution against techno-optimist developmental discourses, and provide a nuanced picture of the benefits, constraints, challenges and risks entailed in the engagement of marginalised urban populations with ICTs. Although providing various beneficial affordances, increased mobile connectivity does not by itself diminish inequalities. ICTs can reinforce power differentials between urban labourers and employers, become instruments of exploitation, and increase the distance between receivers of aid and the transnational regimes that govern precarity in Somali cities.

Keywords: Mobile phones, mobile money, ICT4D, precarity, displacement, migration, urbanisation, Somalia, Africa.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 11 (Citizenship, Marginality and Urban (In)security in Contemporary Africa)

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