“Is this a bad time to call?” Mobile phones, migrants (mis-)communication of climate information in Kenya
NEW! Click here to download the full presentation from Wed. 5 April, 2017 – American Association of Geographers (AAG), Boston, MA
Huge thanks to all who joined me and my fellow panelists (Peter Dannenberg; Sheila Huggins Rao; Dorothea Kleine) at the American Association for Geographers (AAG) meeting in Boston, MA. Feedback, questions and comments continue to be welcome. Please keep in touch!
Abstract: . Ethnographic fieldwork conducted with farmer groups in contrasting high and low market-access sites over the period 2012-2016 explores how household members shared (or withheld) information about climate and agricultural performance using phones or physical visits.
Phone calls were the dominant medium for information sharing, which for agricultural issues prioritised discussion of crop problems, dry spells, lack of inputs, and extreme weather events. Mobile money transfers were the most common response to reported problems with many migrants concerned and frustrated by the poor agricultural performance in the rural areas. Reliance on mobile communication and a decreasing frequency of migrants’ physical involvement in the rural home leads to migrants’ perceptions that climate-related changes are extreme and potentially costly.
Narratives of climate change and its impacts in rural Kenya must therefore be interpreted with care, since many are embedded in household narratives constituted to maintain the economic and emotional involvement of migrants in their rural homes.
FOLLOW THE PROJECT ON ITS WEBSITE multilocationality.wordpress.com
Wed. 24 Feb., 2016 – IDS Sussex, Brighton, UK
NEW! Click here to download my presentation at the 2016 Contested Agronomy conference (“Where’s the Gap? The social construction of yield gaps between researchers’ and farmers’ practice”). This is the draft version of the 15 minute script to the forthcoming paper… and even includes a special celebrity in an unexpected, starring role!
More information on the conference itself can be found here.
“Never at ease”: Cellphones, multilocational households, and the metabolic rift in western Kenya
Agriculture and Human Values (Dec. 2015) DOI: 10.1007/s10460-015-9654-3
Download the pdf from my ResearchGate site here.
HIGHLIGHTS: New field data from Western Kenya (building on the chapter published in 2014 – read it here) suggests:
- Rural households are networked to migrant members elsewhere in the country, who can be called upon for financial, social, and emotional support. These networks were larger than expected.
- Frequent telephonic contact within households seems to be decreasing the frequency with which members physically see each other, and extending the time between migrants’ return visits to the rural area.
- The lack of physical presence is disrupting the transmission and generation of agroecological knowledge about the rural area.
- Migrant men believe themselves to be quite involved in rural affairs; frequent telephonic contact constrains the already limited autonomy of female-headed households in the rural sphere.
The article is part of a series of papers from a 2014 symposium on “Labour Dynamics of Agrarian Change”. SSHRC-funded research in Kenya (2015-2020) will continue to explore these issues in other settings and in greater detail.
ABSTRACT: Western Kenya has been a labour-exporting region for over a century, with many households straddling both rural and urban contexts. While the spatial separation of migrants from their rural places of origin represented the first tangible metabolic rift within Kenyan agricultural production systems, that rift is being reshaped as rural families engage in new forms of interconnection with migrant members (“multilocationality”). These changes appear to be driven by the ongoing crisis of agrarian livelihoods and are supported by the advent of cellphone communication and mobile money transfer technologies.
Interviews and ethnographic data collected in a western Kenyan community and amongst its out-migrants reveal the role of cellphones in mediating social, financial, and knowledge flows within multilocational households. The increased ease of communicating and sending money is associated with less frequent physical movements between rural and urban settings, with commensurate disruptions in the acquisition and development of agro-ecological knowledge, and a shifting burden of agricultural labour. Gender relations are also put under further stress: migrant men remain (or believe they have remained) involved in rural affairs but appear to be using cellphone technologies to reinvent their household roles, replacing previously social or labour contributions with financial ones and by asserting claims over the on-farm decision-making of rural households previously considered female-headed.
(Contact me for more information…)