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Zones of political power: cell phones and group formation in Kenya and the Philippines.

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posted on 23.05.2021, 12:47 authored by Mark J. Jones
This thesis proposes a way to examine the form of connection between cell phone use and the formation of groups advocating political change and democratic reform in developing countries. It uses two political events - the People Power II demonstration in Manila, Philippines in 2001, and the national election in Kenya in 2002 - as case studies to test a framework, one that draws from articulation theory and actor-network theory, and is informed by a history of development communication. Cell phone technology has achieved a worldwide subscriber adoption rate like no other digital technology. People in so-called developing countries have been particularly fast adopters of cell phone technology, with Africa being the fastest growing market in the world since 2002, and the Philippines now the world's leader in the number of text messages sent each day. Popular media reports describe people's use of the cell phone as an instrument for the organization of potent political resistance in the digital age. This thesis strives to ground assumptions of the "power of texting" in a robust examination of the factors that lead to the formation of social groups that successfully and peacefully replace governments believed by popular opinion to be corrupt. The first part of the paper reviews the theoretical foundations used to triangulate an examination of the topic. The second part reviews details of the two case events, including socioeconomic and telecommunications conditions that may have contributed to the formation and organization of social groups and the political ideology conveyed during these events. The third part brings together various types of data - voting patterns, poverty, telecommunication policy, and cell phone network coverage - to expose possible correlations between those geographic areas in developing countries that are cell phone enabled and the potential political influence those with access to mobile handsets can exert. The thesis concludes by arguing that cell phone network coverage maps are useful tools in the study of social and cultural phenomenon for three reasons: cell phone networks are dedicated and singular, they track network penetration density in targeted regions with specific economic and demographic criteria, and they enable the tracking of network expansion over time, indicating emerging regions for wireless social communication and economic development. These maps may be read as zones of political power, enabling those with access to the technology to promote their political agenda, while those without access may be disadvantaged.



Master of Arts


Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type