Cultural Studies
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Texting Capital: Mobile Phones, Social Transformation, and the Reproduction of Power in the Philippines

Cecilia Uy-Tioco

Major Professor: Tim Gibson, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Paul Smith, Mark Sample

Johnson Center, #240A
May 07, 2013, 12:00 PM to 09:00 AM

Abstract:

The mobile phone has arguably become the most ubiquitous information communication technology (ICT) in the world, including in the developing world. Introduced in the Philippines in the early 1990s, mobile phone penetration is expected to reach 100 percent in 2013, an interesting phenomenon since a third of the country lives below the poverty line. This dissertation examines the products and services offered by Philippine telecommunication companies that have led to the widespread use of mobile phones and the implications of this use on economic development and social relations. It investigates the adoption of the mobile phone against the backdrop of the Philippines as a postcolonial, developing nation within the larger context of globalization, modernization, and the development of a global network society. Because the mobile phone has been the most used ICT in the Philippines, telecom companies have seized on the opportunity to attract additional uses for the mobile phone beyond communication with another person, creating hybrid forms of technology use. Using three case studies, mobile commerce, mobile banking, and DIY mobile phone plans, this dissertation critically examines the positive and celebratory discourse put forward by telecommunication companies, the government, and international development organizations. Through an examination of these products and services, the dissertation investigates whether they indeed bridge the “digital divide” between the rich and poor within the Philippines as well as between the Philippines and more developed nations. I argue that the relationship between the adoption of mobile phones, social transformation, and modernity in the developing world is complex and ever-changing. While widespread access to ICTs is celebrated, access to banking services is measured as economic development, and interactivity and customization offers consumers choice, they also further reinforce existing class structures, cultivate neoliberal models of citizenship, and pave the way for heightened consumer surveillance. In the end, this examination of the exciting and innovative uses of mobile phones in a developing country such as the Philippines reveal a number of complex contradictions that are indisputably tied to the larger project of neoliberal globalization.

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