Fishermen in the Information Marketplace
Behavioral, Economic and Social Changes Associated with Introduction of Mobile Phones in Fishing Communities of Kerala, India
By Marzieh Ghiasi (April 2012)
Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day.
Teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.
But give him a mobile phone and you’re really talking!
- The International Development Magazine, 2005
What is the broad context?
The vast and rapid adoption of information and communication technologies (ICT) globally has led to a lot of speculation about how societies are integrating these technologies and how they are in turn being altered by them. According to Steward (1955: 38) unique local features such as subsistence needs are thought to affect local cultural contexts, socio-economic arrangements and the way technologies are adopted. Steward (1955: 40) outlined three steps to evaluate the how culture, technology and production relate and interact. The first was to identify the material and socially-derived needs in a society; the second behavior and exploitative patterns in a society; and the third, the extent to which these patterns affect other social arrangements. Examining each of these allows us to appraise what kind of needs ICTs are meeting, how they are affecting behavior, and broad social superstructures.
The state of Kerala, in South West India, has the second largest fishing output in India, and a substantial portion of the industry is based on traditional fishing practices. The cultural practices, the introduction of new technologies and the economic output of these communities have been closely monitored and cataloged. Throughout the years fishing industry has undergone mechanization, and the introduction of ICT into communities. However, these technologies have been received differently and have affected local culture differently. In this paper I examine how mobile phones, in particular, have been adopted to meet needs of fishing communities Kerala. I will further examine whether mobile phones are reinforcing or changing behavior and exploitative patterns in these societies. Finally, I look at how these patterns are influencing more indirectly other aspects of the culture.
What does this post explore?
Many studies on the mobile phones in the developing world focus solely on economic output as a measure of effective technology integration. Though on the short term, economic benefits lead to diffusion of technologies, over the long term and integration of technologies depend on how well they serve the social well-being of fishing communities. I argue that mobile phones in fishing communities of Kerala have been adopted and integrated into the culture because they enhance users’ the capacity for decision-making by increasing choice and reducing risk, by establishing evenly distributed information flow.
In the first section of this post I will describe the social and economic context of Keralite fishing communities prior to the diffusion of mobile phone technology. In the second section of the post I will examine the outcomes associated with the diffusion of mobile phone technology and its outcomes related to the communities’ fishing activities with respect to spatial and economic decision-making. Finally, I describe five ways that mobile phones have been integrated into spatial decision making, and the effect on economic arrangements. I will also examine the broader socio-cultural outcomes of the diffusion and adoption of this technology and its impact on socio-economic hierarchy, cooperation and collusion, and gender roles. I will conclude by assessing whether the outcomes observed in Kerala are a product of unique environmental, socio-economic and spatial arrangements in the region or if they can be generalized to elsewhere.
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