Project Year



South Asia



Project Description

A widely cited study on the impact of mobile phones in coastal Kerala, India (Jensen 2007), which argues that the availability of price information about mobile services in fishing communities is linked to increases in fishermen’s earnings, has been used to argue that mobile phones lead to efficient markets and increased incomes. We wish to examine to what extent Jensen’s findings are generalizable to other places and other commodities. We propose here a study that examines the use of mobile phones in fishing work with a focus on the work practices of fishermen and the institutional context within which their work is carried out. Our questions for this research are two-fold. First, to what extent were the unique geographic and institutional circumstances of Jensen's study sites (rather than the mere introduction of mobile phones) responsible for his findings? Second, if we examine the work practices of fishermen, rather than focus solely on the economic principles in play, what might we learn about the use of mobile phones as part of the overall livelihood strategy of a fishing community in a particular geographical and institutional context? A combination of participant observation and semi-structured interviews with members of the fishing community in coastal Kerala, representatives of local associations for fisherfolk, and officials of the Kerala government will help us answer these questions.


Jenna Burrell, Janaki Srinivasan, Richa Kumar

About the Researcher(s)

Jenna Burrell is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley. Her book Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana is forthcoming with the MIT Press. She completed her PhD in 2007 in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics, carrying out thesis research on Internet cafe use in Accra, Ghana. Before pursuing her PhD she was an Application Concept Developer in the People and Practices Research Group at Intel Corporation. Her interests span many research topics, including theories of materiality, user agency, transnationalism, post-colonial relations, digital representation, and especially the appropriation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by individuals and social groups on the African continent.

Janaki Srinivasan studies the role of information in socioeconomic change. With a focus on information technology-based development initiatives, she has conducted research on the politics involved in creating, accessing, and using information in the functioning of government services and market processes in rural India. Janaki uses participant observation techniques and interviews in her research, and has worked in rural Rajasthan, Tamilnadu, Puducherry and Kerala, India. She has a PhD from the UC Berkeley School of Information (2011), a Post Graduate Diploma in Information Technology from the Int’l Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (2004), and a Masters in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (2001).

Richa Kumar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi. She completed her Ph.D. in the History and Anthropology of Science, Technology and Society (HASTS) from the Science, Technology and Society (STS) Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA in 2009. Her dissertation was an ethnographic study of the socioeconomic and cultural transformation of the Malwa region in western Madhya Pradesh (India) over the last 40 years with the introduction of soyabean cultivation in the 1970s, and the establishment of an information technology (IT) based private marketing network, known as the eChoupal, in the 2000s. She is a recipient of the New India Fellowship (2010) and is finishing a book manuscript on the political economy of agriculture in central India.

Synopsis of Research Results

Link to their blog post: Understanding Diverse Uses of Mobile Phones and Definitions of Welfare: Revisiting the Fishers of Kerala.

Link to their conference paper, "Revisiting the Fishers of Kerala, India" from the ICTD '13 Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development: Full Papers - Volume 1 at the ACM Digital Library.


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