South African Perspectives on Mobile Phones: Challenging the Optimistic Narrative of Mobiles for Development

Chenxing Han


South Africa, with its high mobile phone penetration rate and persistent social inequalities, is the target of many “mobiles for development” (M4D) initiatives. By comparing South Africans’ stories about mobile phones with the optimistic narrative presented by mobile enthusiasts, this study offers a counterbalance to M4D’s claims that mobile phones incontrovertibly enhance economic situations, improve health outcomes, and guarantee safety. Drawing upon a diverse collection of 79 interviews with NGO employees and beneficiaries in Cape Town, this study problematizes the mobile phone success story espoused by M4D enthusiasts and advocates for a reimagining and retelling of the mobiles for development story that fully considers the negative and neutral aspects of technology for development projects.

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