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The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication [Paperback]

Heather Horst , Daniel Miller

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Book Description

1 Aug 2006 1845204018 978-1845204013
Few modern innovations have spread quite so quickly as the cell phone. This technology has transformed communication throughout the world. Mobile telecommunications have had a dramatic effect in many regions, but perhaps nowhere more than for low-income populations in countries such as Jamaica, where in the last few years many people have moved from no phone to cell phone. This book reveals the central role of communication in helping low-income households cope with poverty. The book traces the impact of the cell phone from personal issues of loneliness and depression to the global concerns of the modern economy and the transnational family. As the technology of social networking, the cell phone has become central to establishing and maintaining relationships in areas from religion to love. The Cell Phone presents the first detailed ethnography of the impact of this new technology through the exploration of the cell phone's role in everyday lives.

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More About the Author

Heather A. Horst is a Vice Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, Co-Director of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre and a Research Fellow in the MA Program in Digital Anthropology at University College London. She is currently involved in three collaborative research projects: a study of mobiles, money and mobility in Haiti and the Dominican Republic (with Erin B. Taylor and Espelencia Baptiste, funded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion); the PACMAS Baseline Study that is exploring the media and communication landscape across 14 countries in the Pacific (with Jo Tacchi, Evangelia Papoutsaki, Verena Thomas and Joys Eggins, funded by ABC International Development) and an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, "Mobilising Media for Sustainable Outcomes in the Pacific", Jo Tacchi and Domenic Friguglietti.

A sociocultural anthropologist by training, Heather's research focuses upon new media, material culture, and transnational migration. She is the co-author of The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication (Horst and Miller, Berg, 2006), Living and Learning with Digital Media: Findings from the Digital Youth Project (Ito, Horst, et al., 2009, MIT Press), and Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with Digital Media (Ito, et al. 2010, MIT Press). Her most recent book, to be released in October 2012, is an edited volume with Daniel Miller entitled Digital Anthropology. Heather's research has been published in a range of journals, including Social Anthropology, Current Anthropology, Journal of Material Culture, Global Networks, Identities, International Journal of Communication and the Caribbean Review of Gender Studies. She has been a guest editor for special issues of the International Journal of Communication, Journal of Material Culture, International Journal of Cultural Studies, New Media and Society and Home Cultures.

Prior to joining RMIT, Heather held research positions at the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub based at the UC Humanities Research Institute at the University of California, Irvine, the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of California, Berkeley, the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California, the School of Social Sciences at University of the West Indies, Mona and the Department of Anthropology at University College London. She obtained her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of London, an MA in Anthropology from University of California, Santa Barbara and a BA in Anthropology from the University of Minnesota.

Contact Details:

Dr. Heather A. Horst
Vice Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow
School of Media and Communication
Design Research Institute
RMIT University, Building 9.4.39
Melbourne, VIC 3001

Twitter: @hahhh
Phone: +(61) (3) 9925 3988

Product Description


In this brilliant account of cell phone use among low-income people in Jamaica, anthropologists Horst and Miller demonstrate the critically important contributions that anthropology can make the communication studies...indispensable reading for the anthropology of communication and the anthropology of policy. A. Arno, Choice What kind of an object does the cell phone become in the hands of low income Jamaicans? In this insightful study, Horst and Miller explore what it means when the phone's leading attribute is less its mobility, or the mobility that it enables, than the possibility of intensifying connections already in play. Conjoining close place-based ethnography with broad historical, political and economic contextualizations, this book further challenges simple stories of a technology's 'global impacts.' Lucy Suchman, Lancaster University An ethnographic exploration of the significance of the cell phone for developing countries, which advances an anthropology of communication in new and fascinating directions. Sonia Livingstone, London School of Economics Horst and Miller give a dazzling display of new and innovative methods, combined with sophisticated use of anthropological theory. The writing is engaging and the descriptions of people and places are vivid, making this a wonderful resource for teaching. It will have a broad appeal in many disciplines, and any reader interested in new technologies will find surprises here. Richard Wilk, Indiana University A landmark in mobile phone studies that will appeal to a wide audience and that is likely to frame debates in this field for some time to come. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

About the Author

Daniel Miller teaches in the Department of Anthropology, University College London. Heather A Horst is Postdoctoral Scholar, Center for New Media, University of California Berkeley.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important ethnographic study of cell phones 17 April 2007
By C. Taylor - Published on
In a global environment where mobile technologies are making impressive and influential in-roads into many societis and cultures, this ethnographically based study of the impact of cell phones on low-income populations in Jamaica is a valuable piece of scholarship. Based on two-years of ethnographic study in a rural and urban area of Jamaica, Horst and Miller's effort to construct an 'anthropology of communication' is accessible, yet strongly grounded in theory. Through avoiding technological and socially deterministic approaches and carefully examining the contradictions inherent in the deployment of cell phones throughout poorer sections of Jamaican society, the advantages and difficulties of this new technology are presented clearly, wreathed in the complications of everyday Jamaican life. The use of extensive ethnographic data (impressive in its scope) presented as short case studies, provide a clear sense of realism for the contextualisation of their examination of communication as an anthropological experience, with impacts for economics and policy. In examining the Jamaican experience specifically, this work may be limited in its use in other contexts, but still provides an important model for researchers in similar areas. Grounded in the reality of everyday Jamaican life, "The Cell Phone" succeeds as "...a study of the changes that document and demonstrate what a cell phone can turn into in the hands of a Jamaican, and what a Jamaican can become when they have their hands on a cell phone."(181)

An important piece of scholarship for anyone interested in the impact of technologies on people, cultures and societies.
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