Myanmar and India
Why do people continue to use intermediaries such as mobile money agents, when they could carry out the same operations in a cheaper and faster manner without them? Research on mobile money has largely focused on end-users of mobile financial services, and does not explain the resilience of intermediaries that should have been eliminated by technology. In this project, we explore the roles played by financial intermediaries in agricultural markets in Myanmar and India, in order to understand their practices, their position in the community, and the social relations they maintain with their clients. What value do intermediaries bring to monetary and financial transactions? What value do these transactions bring to the lives of intermediaries? Which of the many functions embodied by intermediaries can be replaced or supported by Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and which ones are beyond their reach? We use these questions to frame our qualitative and comparative research in a wet market in the town of Hsipaw, in Myanmar, and in the fish auction markets of South Kerala, in India. The differing trajectories of mobile phone and mobile money adoption of the two countries will enable us to understand the process and value of mediation in communities where the devices of mediation are more and less familiar to intermediaries and end users. 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 of intermediaries in fulfilling these needs and expectations, we argue, can help explain why promises of disintermediation languish and financial intermediaries persist in the digital age.
Janaki Srinivasan and Elisa Oreglia
About the Researcher(s)
Janaki Srinivasan (PhD, UC Berkeley School of Information) is an Assistant Professor at the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (IIITB). She studies the political economy of information and ICT-focused development initiatives. Janaki is currently working on the role of intermediaries in ICT-based transactions among agricultural actors in India, and the role of information determinism in ICT-based initiatives.
Elisa Oreglia (PhD, UC Berkeley School of Information) is a lecturer at SOAS, University of London. She studies the appropriation and circulation of new media among marginal users in China and Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on local knowledge production and information sharing practices. She is currently researching the self-invention of new media users in rural China, and the "digital imagination" in Myanmar.
Read their illustrated final report, "Intermediaries, Cash Economies, and Technological Change in Myanmar and India", drawings by Krish Raghav (krishcat.com)
Initial findings are summarized in the following blogposts:
"Intermediaries, Cash Economies, and Technological Change in Myanmar and India (Part Three)"
"No cash, no intermediaries? Different scenarios for a digital economy": A report on the IIIT Bangalore-IMTFI workshop held on Nov 11, 2016 at IIIT-Bangalore