ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P28)

ICTs, biopolitics and health: making and unmaking bodies and persons in a world of globalised telecommunications

Location Appleton Tower, Seminar Room 2.11
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 11:00

Convenor

Kate Hampshire (Durham University) email
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Summary

This panel explores the multiple ways in which ICTs (broadly defined) can act on (human) bodies and persons, and vice versa. We welcome papers that explore the human-technology dialectic, and implications for health and wellbeing, within different political, economic and socio-cultural contexts.

Long Abstract

The global spread of communications technology is one of the defining and arguably most socially transforming features of the early twenty-first century. In low-income settings in particular, the rapid expansion of mobile phone use (also facilitating access to the internet) has been seen as a driver of economic growth and prosperity, but also as a marker of socio-economic cleavages and differentiation. Telecommunications have become rapidly incorporated into healthcare and bodily management, both formally (through, for example, the widespread adoption of m-health services) and informally, as people make use of increased access to information to democratise the process of diagnosis and treatment-seeking. However, ICTs may also act in more invidious ways on bodies and persons, threatening to compromise, rather than enhance, physical health and psycho-social wellbeing. Examples range from the phenomenon of 'cyberchondria' (anxiety arising from internet searching on symptoms), and popular fears about health risks associated with mobile phone use/masts, to the use of ICTs for surveillance of individuals and populations (by governments and/or individuals), discourses around the risks of 'moral corruption' of young people and ensuing sexual health threats, and supernatural risks (such as the Ghanaian phenomenon of 'Sakawa' or internet-mediated witchcraft). This panel welcomes papers looking at the ways in which ICTs (of various kinds) act on bodies and persons, and/or vice versa. We particularly welcome empirical and theoretical contributions that explore the human-technology dialectic, and impacts on bodies and health/wellbeing, in a variety of different socio-cultural, political and economic settings.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

People making calls; call making people: relationships between mobile phones, (young) bodies and persons in Sub-Saharan Africa

Authors: Kate Hampshire (Durham University)  email
Gina Porter (Durham University)  email

Summary

This paper explores the complex, contingent and often contradictory relationships between young people (in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa) and mobile phones. Phone-based communication has been both transformed by, and transforming of, (young) bodies and persons, with implications for wellbeing.

Long Abstract

The rapid expansion of mobile telephony across Sub-Saharan Africa has penetrated almost every aspect of life. Drawing on a combination of narrative accounts and survey data from 24 study sites in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa, we explore the ways in which phone-based communication has been transformed by, and transforming of, young people (aged 9-25 years) in an array of different social, economic, political and cultural circumstances. Mobile phones are highly valued by almost all the young people we encountered, and phone-mediated connections are becoming an important means through which personhood is produced and managed. Yet the relationships between (young) persons, bodies and phones are complex, contingent and often fraught with contradiction and ambiguity: phones may threaten, as well as help to engender, both personal and bodily integrity. We discuss a range of examples, from phone-mediated healing to the risk of phone-related violence (physical, emotional and spiritual), and explore the implications of some of these complexities and contradictions for young people's health and wellbeing.

Connected care: everyday ICT use in elderly care provision in Indian transnational families

Author: Tanja Ahlin (University of Amsterdam)  email

Summary

Based on recent fieldwork data, this paper explores the practical and theoretical implications of everyday ICT (such as mobile phones and the Internet) used by Indian nurses, who migrated for work from Kerala to the Middle East, to provide care to their elderly parents remaining at home.

Long Abstract

Around the world, ICT is becoming increasingly used in care provision at a distance, for example to chronic patients, through projects implemented by health care institutions. But what about ICT use in informal care provision at a distance within families? This paper examines the use of everyday ICT, such as mobile phones and the Internet, to provide care to the elderly in Indian transnational families. In India, life expectancy is increasing, which contributes to significant population ageing and raises important concerns in terms of health provision, organization and financing. At the same time, Indian women increasingly migrate abroad as nurses to provide care for somebody in a foreign country while leaving their dependent children or elderly parents behind, a phenomenon known as global care chains. In this context, the use of everyday ICT has contributed to the emergence of transnational social space, where everyday life practices and social networks are maintained across countries and often continents. The combination of intensified migration and increased availability and accessibility of everyday ICT has also had a significant impact on care. Based on recent fieldwork data, this paper focuses on what happens to care practices for the elderly when physical distance is introduced in the relations between family members, and how ICT are used to mitigate this distance. By describing specific examples of ICT use for care in Indian transnational families, the author investigates how care is provided to the ageing body at a distance.

Can mobile phone technology assist people living with diabetes or depression? Initial insights on trust from multi-disciplinary research in south India

Authors: Papreen Nahar (University of Durham)  email
Peter Phillimore (Newcastle University)  email

Summary

This paper explores the potential of mobile phone technologies in the development of applications to support the self-management of individuals with diabetes or depression in India and the UK.

Long Abstract

The goal of the TRUMP project is to explore the potential of mobile phone technologies in the development of applications to support the self-management and monitoring of individuals with diabetes or depression in rural areas of India and the UK. This m-health project comes out of an initiative by both governments that had the purported aim of 'bridging the urban-rural divide' in technology in both counties. Critical to the goal of this project are questions of trust, at a host of levels. This presentation focuses on several of the ways in which questions of trust have arisen and been addressed in the Indian side of the project, through the early stages of work in Andhra Pradesh. As social anthropologists working alongside researchers in public health and computer science in both countries, we also consider the feasibility and dilemmas surrounding the goal of the project, and the ambiguities inherent in notions of self-management through technological aids, in the context of India's highly pluralistic and stratified healthcare.

The technologies of ICTs in the pursuit of wellbeing

Author: Dori Beeler (University of Notre Dame)  email

Summary

This paper explores governmentality within social networking activities of Reiki practitioners around the world who are focused on things such as the democratising of treatment within Reiki worldviews alongside information pertaining to medical diagnosis and the use of Reiki within those diagnoses.

Long Abstract

An emphasis alongside biopolitics, governmentality allows for a critique of the concepts of power with a focus on behaviour while employing various techniques. This paper explores governmentality within social networking activities of Reiki practitioners as an increased access point for information. Linked In, a networking site for professionals, allows for the formation of Groups based on niche professions. One Group is dedicated to Reiki Professionals; Reiki is a hands-on-healing method that affects one's bodily energy in the pursuit of wellbeing. Within this Group can be found opportunities for discussions amongst practitioners who are focused on things such as the democratising of treatment within Reiki worldviews alongside information pertaining to the use of Reiki alongside medical diagnosis. With respect to governmentality, two of the four technologies are linked; this paper employs Technologies of Production and Technologies of Signs to discuss how Reiki practitioners engage in Linked In, categorized as a form of ICT. This use of a social network carries forward Bryan Pfaffenberger's argument against a 'Standard View' whereas human technological activity makes up a 'sociotechnical system.' Technologies of production is characterized as operations that allow for the production, transformation, or manipulation of things, in this case the manipulation of ICTs, whereas Technologies of Sign Systems allow the use of signs, meanings, symbols, or signification, in this case Reiki worldviews alongside biomedicine. This social activity will demonstrate forms of knowledge and attitudes within a democratization of healing worldviews and how Reiki engages with medical diagnoses as they pertain to wellbeing.

Mobile phone masts and fears of disease in contemporary India

Author: Amelia Bonea (University of Oxford)  email

Summary

This paper will identify and discuss health concerns associated with mobile phone masts in contemporary India, examining the ways in which they are perceived to intrude upon the body, leading to physical and mental illness or discomfort.

Long Abstract

As studies of medicine and technology have repeatedly pointed out, new technologies of transport and communication often generate new risks of disease, from influenza pandemics and radiation sickness due to air travel to conditions such as RSIs associated with the prolonged use of computers and mobile phones. Concerns about the increased risk of headaches, infertility and various types of cancer among regular users of mobile phones and people living in the vicinity of mobile phone masts are another, globally relevant example of health anxieties. In contemporary India, home to the world's second biggest market of mobile phone users, this topic has attracted a considerable degree of attention during the last decade, particularly in densely populated urban areas such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. The mobile phone towers are often erected on residential buildings, schools, hospitals and parks and have thus become an integral part of the city landscape, their very existence the object of intense negotiation between residents, government, telecommunication companies, scholars and activists. This paper will identify and discuss health concerns associated with mobile phone masts in contemporary India, examining the manifold ways in which they are perceived to intrude upon the body, leading to physical and mental illness or discomfort. The paper will also provide an opportunity to discuss the broader issue of how medical knowledge is created and shared with the non-specialist public.

ICTs and 'novel' forms of violating bodies and persons: mobile phones and sexual abuse of minors and women in the Turkish context

Author: Berna Yazici (Bogazici University)  email

Summary

This paper explores an invidious use of ICTs, focusing on how mobile phones have been employed to physically violate particular persons and bodies, in this case of minors and women in the Turkish context.

Long Abstract

This paper explores an unintended and invidious use of ICTs, focusing on how mobile phones have been employed to physically violate particular persons and bodies, in this case of minors and women in the contemporary Turkish context. It focuses on a new proliferating phenomenon, involving cases of minors and women who find themselves in an ongoing cycle of sexual violence perpetuated by either stranger men or intimate partners. What is striking and new is that this sexual violence builds on and is perpetuated by blackmailer men who threaten minors/women to share mobile phone camera images of their naked bodies, sexual conducts (or rapes) on the Internet. This "strategic" deployment of ICTs as vehicles for sexual violence has direct and severe implications for physical health and psycho-social well being. In its most dramatic and extreme form, these implications have been manifest in the suicides (or suicide attempts) of rape victims.

This paper builds on the analysis of specific cases of this new form of sexual violence. Moving from the premise that communication technologies gain meaning and use in relation to the larger socio-cultural contexts and political relations of power, the discussion demonstrates how this invidious use of ICTs has been shaped in the Turkish context by the prevailing forms of gendered power structures and norms. It also shows how ICTs have been transforming and acting on this gendered power field and the particular persons and bodies who find themselves as the subjects of a novel form of gendered violence.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.