New programme: Connecting in times of Duress
This research programme seeks to understand the dynamics in the relationship between social media, mobile telephony and the social fabric under duress inAfrica’s mobile margins. It combines studies on mobility/migration, conflict and communication in an attempt to uncover these new dynamics, which have been so evident in North Africa and theMiddle Eastin 2011. Societies under duress are characterized by long periods of war or repression that lead to mobilities (forced or economic) and marginality. People who live in such circumstances have to manoeuvre between oppressive structures and possibilities to communicate, which are often informed by violence, fear and poverty. The introduction of new ICT is enhancing information flows and communication between people and this is expected to lead to social change and to influence the social fabric in its (re)forming of communities and the construction of identity and feelings of belonging, which will increasingly differentiate social groups. The study is situated in northern Middle Africa (Chad,Central African Republic,Cameroonand easternNigeria). The proposed methodology is interdisciplinary (anthropology, history, communication studies, conflict studies and social geography), historical-ethnographic and comparative, involving regional sub-projects among diverse mobile populations in urban centres, refugee camps and remote rural areas. Film and photography will also form part of the methodology, acting as a form of communication between researchers, local communities and stakeholders and will result in a documentary. The study contributes to the development of a theory of connections. The findings will enhance our understanding of conflict dynamics and further the debate on the role of social media and ICT in conflict and post-conflict societies. Workshops and conferences in Africa andEuropewill guarantee regular exchanges between policy makers and academia.
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Mobile Africa Revisited
A comparative study of the relationship between new communication technologies and social spaces (Chad, Mali, Cameroon, Angola, Sudan and Senegal).
This research programme investigates the relationship between new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), social space, mobility and marginality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although transport facilities and communication infrastructure are frequently deficient in the so-called remote and marginal regions of Africa, these regions usually have long histories of trans-local mobility and migration. As a result of this combination of remoteness and mobility, the impact and the social use of new ICTs may be most dramatic among marginal social categories and in marginalized areas. Relations between people living in these areas and those who have moved away can be studied as strings of people forming mobile margins, with changing aspirations and possibilities.
This project aims to study the extent to which the recent introduction of new ICTs in these areas is shaping and is shaped by the mobile margins, both socially and economically. Alternative alleys of contact are perhaps being opened up but it is also possible that earlier routes and forms of interaction are being closed off or redefined. New ICTs may be leading to unforeseen opportunities but could also generate new patterns of exclusion and poverty and lead to new social hierarchies. New ICTs are perhaps being used and articulated in creative, locally embedded ways, but it could equally be possible that people in mobile marginal networks feel that the new ICTs and the international companies introducing them are being aggressively imposed on them, leading to new social, moral and economic problems. The research programme therefore aims to interrogate the unequivocally positive view regarding the introduction of ICTs that is often found in policy circles.
In our research programme on social relations, mobility and new communication technologies in Africa we seek to address the issue of development and communication technologies through the interpretation of African end-users. Instead of a macro-perspective we propose to deal with large structures and big issues from a bottom-up perspective: the daily lives of people and their evaluations of new technologies are central to our endeavour. Combining historical and anthropological methods we hope to address how people in Africa are appropriating new ICTs and how they did so in the past. Such an approach may redirect the debates mentioned above towards more emphasis on agency in historically specific contexts.
Exchange with organisations in the telecommunication business sector and in development organisations is essential to this programme.