Methods and Theory

We will gather our data using the ethnographic method, which includes semi-structured interviews and participant observation in the field. We will interview mobile phone users and potential users several times, to give them time to express their needs and ponder solutions. The advantages of ethnography over large-scale sample surveys and opinion polling is that only ethnography can reveal the complex inner workings of everyday life and culture, and how multiple life domains (society, culture, economics, politics, environment) interact with mobile technology use. We take into account gendered interactions at four levels: (1) the individual level, (2) the level of intra-household dynamics, (3) the household level, and (4) the level of social institutions. Only by analysing the gender-technology-development nexus at all of these levels can an adequate analysis be produced.

In terms of theory, our objective is to challenge the paradigms of development theory as well as the "social shaping of technology" approach. In terms of practice, all projects will contribute to developing both gender-sensitive mobile technology applications and "best practices" guidelines. Our researchers start from a careful ethnographic study of mobile phone use in their research locations, and then proceed to developing suggestions for developmental mobile applications in co-operation with NGOs and other stakeholders. We also identify positive and effective grass-roots solutions for empowering women and girls which have already proven successful, and could be applied to other contexts.

Following the Social Shaping of Technology (SST) and Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) approaches, we reject views of technological determinism and see the impact of a particular technology as deriving not from the design itself but from the struggles and negotiations among interested parties (Pinch & Bijker 1984; Bijker & Pinch 1987; Williams & Edge 1996). Social constructionist approaches view technologies as broad-based systems comprising not merely physical artefacts, devices and infrastructures, but also social and cultural patterns of behaviour, regulatory laws and policies, education and know-how. Seeing technology as a social construct means recognizing that technologies embody gender differences (Litho 2005). Despite the strengths of the social construction of technology theory, it has recently come under reassessment (Hyysalo 2006 and Mackay & Gillespie 1992). The overall theoretical aim of the project is to develop the SCOT theory to further understand how the social shaping of technology is intertwined with culture while leaving space for a technological imagination not completely dictated by it.