Accepted paper:

Digital technologies, power, and intermediaries in Myanmar and India


Elisa Oreglia (SOAS University of London)
Janaki Srinivasan

Paper short abstract:

Digital technologies that can disintermediate markets are now common in Myanmar and India and yet intermediaries and traditional practices still dominate rural markets. We explore the resilience of intermediaries and how digital technologies reinforce, and more rarely challenge, existing power hierarchies.

Paper long abstract:

Why do people continue to use intermediaries such as mobile money agents, as well as cash, when they have access to more convenient alternatives, and could carry out the same operations in a cheaper and faster manner without intermediaries? This paper explores the roles played by traditional networks made of human intermediaries and cash in agricultural markets in Myanmar and India, in order to understand the practices and the power hierarchies that exist around them, the characteristics that make them resilient in a time of change, and which of these many functions and roles can or cannot be replaced or supported by digital technologies. What value do intermediaries bring to monetary and financial transactions? What value do these transactions bring to the lives of intermediaries? Are intermediaries strengthened in their position of power by digital technologies, or can digital technologies challenge existing power hierarchies? We use these questions to frame our qualitative and comparative research in a wet market in Shan State in Myanmar, and in the fish auction markets of South Kerala in India. Our research aims at mapping out the financial and mobile phone practices of different market actors, of end-users and intermediaries, in order to uncover their differing needs and expectations. Identifying the role played by different material forms of money and by intermediaries in fulfilling these needs and expectations, we argue, can help explain why promises of disintermediation languish and both cash and financial intermediaries persist in the digital age.

panel P01
Power, politics and digital development [Information, Technology and Development Study Group]