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Mobile phones promote a sense of belonging

Research by a University of Cape Town PhD graduate explores how
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) - specifically the use of
mobile phones - help the mobile population of Cape Town?s Langa township
negotiate migration and a sense of belonging.

In her thesis, ICTs and the reconfiguration of "marginality' in Langa
Township: A study of migration and belonging, Dr Crystal Powell seeks to reveal
the complex reality of marginalisation experienced among Langa?s mobile
population.

Dr Powell?s findings showed that mobile phones, for many of the local and
immigrant residents in her study, had become a way to challenge their (real or
imagined) marginalities within South Africa and the township. "As symbols of
status, mobile phones were useful as facilitators of the reconfiguration and
renegotiation of marginality for many residents,' she said.

Generally in South Africa there is a lack of empirical evidence that can show
that South Africans are using mobile technologies in their everyday lives in
creative and innovative ways. Dr Powell said: "Those living in poverty have
mastered the use of technology in spite of a lack of finances to sustain airtime
to, for example, gain social inclusion and acceptance in a variety of social
aspects both within and outside the township, and within and outside South
Africa.' Yet, inventors of mobile phones often do not consider the use of devices
by marginalised people to benefit their lives, Dr Powell added. The study is
therefore useful to the ongoing debate regarding the use and role of technology
on the African continent.

Dr Powell?s thesis is part of a larger project which investigates the ways in
which new ICTs - such as the use of mobile phones - have shaped the ongoing
transformation of South African society.

She focused specifically on the ways that mobile phones either mitigated or
worsened xenophobic tensions between local South Africans and African
immigrants who have settled among them - particularly in disadvantaged
populations like those living in townships. She looked at how mobile phones
allowed African immigrants to create and maintain flexible identities, safely
allowing them to occupy a social standing both at home and in their "host'
country, which is South Africa.

Dr Powell holds a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the Lehman College
University, New York, and an MA in Social Anthropology from UCT. Her book, Me
and My Cell Phone, and Other Essays on Technology in Everyday Life, was
published in 2012.

What do you think?
Do you agree? Do mobile phones promote a sense of belonging?

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