Published May 12, 2013 · Estimated reading time: 29 minutes · Filed under , , ,

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

Kerala-fishermen-fishing*Image source

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.


Quick Index

1. Social and economic context of Kerala’s fishing communities
2. Introduction and adoption of ICT in Kerala
3. Spatial and temporal decision-making
4. Economic impact and utility
5. Socio-cultural outcomes
6. Conclusions
7. References


1. SOCIAL & ECONOMIC CONTEXT OF KERALA’S FISHING COMMUNITIES

The state of Kerala has had a unique development experience in the Indian subcontinent which has been coined the ‘Kerala Model’. Under this model, the state has been able to, despite low per capita income, achieve high quality of life comparable to countries with much more advanced economies, including a literacy rate over 90% and infant mortality below 12% (Sreekumar, 2011: 173). These achievements have been due to high levels of cooperation and political participation among citizens, as well as various resource and wealth distribution schemes under the state government since the 1960s. The economy of Kerala relies heavily on fishing for subsistence, livelihood and employment. Within Kerala, consumption of fish is four times the national average (Antony, 2011: 74). Furthermore, the state produces16.6% of the shares of India’s total marine exports, the second largest in the country (Antony, 2011: 71).

Despite the prominence of the fishing industry, traditional fishing communities, much like indigenous communities in Kerala have lower socioeconomic status. Fishing communities belong to the three major religions of India, and are divided along caste and subcastes in different areas including the Hindu Dheevara, Catholic Mukkuva and Anjootty and Muslim Pooislan. However, fishing is a considered low-ranking occupation in all of these religion-castes (Hapke, 2004: 317). This has traditionally led to the political marginalization of these communities and low infrastructural and economic investment compared to elsewhere in the state (Sreekumar, 2011: 174). While the rest of Kerala been successful with the ‘Model’, these communities have lagged behind in social determinants such as literacy and infant mortality.

The fishing practices and socio-economic arrangements in Kerala have actually undergone various transitions with the adoption of new technologies in the country. The 1950s initiated a gradual shift from traditional fishing equipment from cotton nets to nylon nets. In the 1960s new practices began in the region included trawl fishing to increase catch and economic output. In the 1970s, national and multinational companies became involved and promoted the seafood export markets in Kerala (Meynen, 1989: 743). This led to a strong push towards increased economic productivity. As well, subsistence economies were largely replaced with commercial and globally integrated markets.The 1980s saw an increased number of motorized country crafts being employed off the coast of Kerala. This process also included the introduction of mechanized trawlers, and industrialization of production (Hapke, 2004: 317).

The government of Kerala actually provided subsidies including credits and loans for motorization, which has been seen as a strong contributing factor to the adoption these technologies (Srinath, 1988: 14). Motorization was found to give fishermen more mobility provided them and a way to increase their catch and income. However, the introduction of this technology led to the division of fisheries into three sectors which continue to persist. The first are the traditional artisanal which use exclusively traditional tools and cater to local markets. They typically earn the lowest, and have been declining. The second are fishermen who use mechanized trawlers. They acquire prawn for export markets, and thus typically earn the highest. The third are fishermen who use other motor craft to harvest fish catering to local markets and for export (Hapke, 2004: 317).

The mechanization of Kerala fisheries was not without its opponents. There was intense antagonism between artisanal fishermen and fishermen using mechanized boats (Meynen, 1989: 750). Many traditional fishermen opposed the integration of mechanization in their trade as they perceived these technologies would ultimately threaten their livelihoods and the ecology of traditional fishing areas (Sreekumar, 2011:173). Not surprisingly, mechanization did disproportionately favor certain fishermen, who possessed the capital to own, and the knowledge to take advantage of these technologies. For the majority of fishermen, however, the divide was widened and increased mechanization led to reduced productivity and incomes (Meynen, 1989: 735). Furthermore, mechanization and the increase use of trawlers has led to overfishing in Kerala coast, and consequently overall reductions in harvest (Hapke, 2004: 317).

The fishing economies of Kerala are deeply intertwined with socio-cultural institutions. These institutions have traditionally focused on distributing benefits and risks across the community, for example by sharing fish for subsistence purposes in the community. The communities have also traditionally had cooperative institutions called kadakkodi (sea court) that arbitrated the economic behaviour and social welfare of communities (Kurien, 2001: 200) In addition a history of marginalization, combined with self-sufficiency, has led these communities to mobilize politically. For instance in response to mechanization and industrialization in the 1970s and 1980s, fishermen began to unionize and form cooperatives. These cooperatives were developed to deal with economic challenges and provide fishermen with welfare safety nets (Meynen, 1989: 754).

anthony2011Figure 1. Supply chain of Kerala’s fishing markets. (Source: Antony, 2011)

At the turn of the century, the regional market of Kerala was divided into seven broad coastal markets, consisting of many smaller markets each within a 15 km distance of one another. Fishing itself took place out in the sea at a distance of 10-25 km from the coast. The acquisition, processing, and marketing of fish takes placed down a complex supply chain (Fig 1). In particular, boats are either owned by proprietors who hire a crew of fishermen, or individual fishermen, or fishermen’s cooperatives. Commission agents also invest in boats, and in turn exert control over the sale of fish (Abraham, 2006: 9). In the context of local markets, which this paper focuses on, vending of fish is done by men and women depending on the specific community as fishing communities of different caste-religions differ in their gender structures (Hapke, 2004: 313). The auctioning and sale of fish occurs in markets often occurs directly at the shore. However, if prices offered are too low, then women of the household take the fish to the inland markets. In other cases, if men in a certain family bring back no fish then women vendors will buy fish from other fishermen at the shore and then take them to the market to sell for profit (Hapke, 2004: 321).


2. INTRODUCTION AND ADOPTION OF ICT IN KERALA

BSNL-Fishermen*Image Source

Mobile phone services were introduced in Kerala between 1997 and 2001 and the diffusion of mobile phones technology in Kerala was extremely rapid. In 2007, 10 million individuals in the state owned a mobile phone, a third of the state’s total population. Furthermore, Kerala accounted for 15% of connectivity in all of India, and the greatest mobile phone usage across the country (Palackal et al., 2011: 396). Between 2000 and 2007, six mobile service providers in the region saw tremendous growth rates between 70-140% corresponding with increase in mobile phone ownership and usage (Palackal et al., 2011: 396). Palackal et al. (2011: 398) conducted a longitudinal survey of Kerala’s capital city, Trivandum, between 2002 and 2007. They found that in this five year period, ownership of mobile phones had increased from 33% to 96%, in what was virtually urban saturation.

Kerala’s geography, as a narrow strip beside the Arabian Sea positioned most of its large urban areas beside the shore. Consequently signals from base towers could be received some 25 km out into the sea, and were thus accessible by fishermen (Jensen, 2007: 883). Mobile phones were initially adopted by wealthier fishermen and larger boats, since at US $100, each phone was initially priced at about a month’s work for average fishermen (Jensen, 2007: 887). This early adopter effect was similar to the mechanization trends of the 1980s, and modern adoption of sonar and echo sounders, which are currently used by less than 10% of fishermen in 2010 (Antony, 2011: 140). However, in 2001, 60% of fishing boats had adopted mobile phones, interestingly at this time only 5% of Kerala’s population had adopted mobile phones (Jensen, 2007: 883). Between 2005 and 2010, the use of mobile phones in one fishing community went from 12% to 81%, and is expected to approach saturation in upcoming years (Antony, 2011: 132).

Three factors appear to have mitigated a divide in the adoption of mobile phones compared to mechanize and high technology equipment: first is the investment and level of expertise required, second the versatility of the technology and finally the economic arrangement in Kerala which necessitated wide diffusion of the technology. Although, mobile phones were initially expensive, they were not prohibitively so compared to technologies such as sonar. As well, the migrations into the gulf have led to an influx of remittance money back into Kerala which made smaller capital investments more affordable in recent years (Hapke, 2004: 328). Mobile phones follow the “oral traditions” of the fishing communities, whereas more advanced technologies require sophistication and literacy (Abraham, 2006: 15). Finally, community cooperatives such as Kerala Independent fish Workers Federation have focused on training people for use of ICT, including mobile phones and GPS devices (Antony, 2011: 127).

Mobile phones have also proven to be extremely versatile as will be discussed throughout this paper. They can be used to exchange information, arrange business, provide alerts, and allow fishermen to keep in touch with their families. The early adoption of mobile phones may led to a relative advantages enjoyed by early adopters, however, the short time span between the entry of the technology and full diffusion have led to a lack of empirical evidence to support this. Furthermore, the supply chain that operates in Kerala’s fisheries may actually increase the value of mobile phone as more users adopt the technology. Palackal et al. (2011) describe this as a “positive network effect” whereby the ownership of mobile phones has smaller value when few are connected, but increases in value as many become connected. Indeed, theoretical models critical mass of diffusion for mobile phones is necessary to observing any measurable changes because the system relies on interaction between individuals in a network, and the creation of each node on the network will increase the knowledge flow and potential choices.


3. SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL DECISION-MAKING

As described earlier, mobile phones may enhance users’ the capacity for decision-making by increasing choice and reducing risk, through establishing strong information flow. In this section, using the evaluation method outlined Steward (1955: 40) I will look at the needs, how the technology fulfills these needs, and how may have influenced spatial and temporal decision-making for fishermen in Kerala and consequently modified behavioral and exploitative patterns. First the technology may have allowed for greater catch, second it may have reduced the work and time investment for catch, and third it may have reduced the physical and economic risk for each trip.

Abraham (2006: 12) reported that 94% of fishermen used mobile phones to inform others about the presence of areas with high abundance of fish, affecting both the quantity and variability of catch. Consequently, time spent searching for fish is reduced and strategizing and cooperation allows for a greater catch. Also, fewer fishermen are found idling at the shore as information distributed about large schools of fish would compel these individuals to also head out to sea. Hence, fishermen increase their absolute catch and efficiency, and the time saved allows them to engage in other productive activities such as net-making. This is described by a fisherman from Kerala in an interview:
“When I start my boat, I call others who are already sailing—I ask if kanava (fish) [is] available anywhere? It saves money. I don’t have to go to locations where it is not available. It saves money (for gas)… it saves time so that I can come back early and do some other kind of work.” (Sreekumar, 2011:174)

While qualitative research suggests that mobile phones may have contributed to greater catch, Jensen (2007: 906) found no empirical evidence to correlate mobile phone adoption to the migration of fishing activities into non-local catchments—outside fishermen’s typical fishing areas, a change in total catch, or a change in variability of the type of catch. These two apparently contradicting lines of evidence may suggest that while total catch is not increasing, an increasing number of individuals have an opportunity to participate in expeditions and reap economic benefits. It is alternatively possible that the estimates of total catch are not accurate.

Fishermen in Kerala face spatial and temporal restrictions that affect their productivity. In particular, any given fisherman is limited in the distance he can travel because of time, fuel consideration, and finally the nature of the perishable goods. Many markets are only open for a few hours during the day, and it is extremely expensive for fishermen to store fish overnight (Jensen, 2007: 884). Before the adoption of the phone, the majority of fishermen sold at home markets, whereas the adoption of mobile phones has led to an increasing number of fishermen going to other markets, thereby increasing travel. The spatial dynamics is interesting in that in other examples of ICT successes, positive outcomes are typically associated with reduced travel time and distance (Foss, 2009: 136). Among Kerala’s fishermen, by contrast, mobile phones have led to a net increase in overall travel distance.

As boats increasingly became mechanized, repair became a prominent, as fishermen had to go to the main island and pay high fees for small repairs, and lose important fisihing time (Srinath, 1988: 15). Using mobile phones, fishermen can now call for repairs and fuel on shore or at sea, saving time (Sreekumar, 2011: 174). Additionally, mobile phones applications have been used elsewhere to provide weather and ocean temperature information. In Kerala this information could be used by fishermen to modify their behavior in terms of when and where to fish. Currently, however, such applications are not available in a user-friendly manner, and fishermen rely on indigenous knowledge for weather patterns. Sreekumar (2011:176), nonetheless, finds that such potential uses for mobile phones are being conceived by fishermen who in interviews describe tools such as satellite technology integrated with their phones as being potentially very helpful in securing their livelihoods.

Mobile phones can also act as an effective security system for fishermen. Across various Keralite communities, 87% of fishermen reported feeling safer at sea with access to a mobile phone (Abraham, 2006: 14). Safety at sea is tremendously important, especially in a region where fishermen are threatened by weather conditions, capture by militant groups, and interference from illegal international fishing vessels (Sreekumar, 2011:177). Mobile phones allow users to call to the shore or others nearby in situations of danger, or to provide reassurance of their safety. Sreekumar (2011:178) describes anecdotes of hired fishermen who are not cellphone users refusing to go on boats where the owners did not have mobile phones.


4. ECONOMIC IMPACT AND UTILITY

In modern markets, information asymmetries are created when the flow of information is not in a well-distributed manner, thereby reducing the efficiency of the market (Abraham, 2006: 6). The adoption of mobile phones has been associated with positive economic outcomes in rural Africa, among Sami in Finland, nomadic populations in Mongolia and impoverished urban communities in Brazil. The introduction of information and communication technologies has been found empirically to improve the flow of information in the market. In China, the introduction of telephone services helped reduce differences in prices of farmers’ products across markets in an area (Abraham, 2006: 7) In Kenya, rural farmers began adopting a mobile service called the Drumnet that allowed them to check market prices for their crop, and decide which market to go to for the best price (Rashid, 2009: 6).

In Kerala, local fishermen faced information asymmetry in that they did not know the prices in different markets, and due to time and fuel limitation, as well as lack of storage for a perishable item could not seek prices at different markets. Hence, 90% of sales were conducted in home markets (Jensen, 2007: 881). Thus, there was an inherent risk associated with marketing fish as prices fluctuated and fishermen often found their fish prices to be very low on arriving to the shore (Srinath, 1988: 15). This also meant that local markets had fluctuating supply depending entirely on the catch in the area, and could not guarantee to meet demand (Jensen, 2007: 881). This uneven distribution of supply and demand along in the markets created great diversity between prices in different markets on different days, as some markets had an excess of fish, and others there had too little fish to meet demand. This inefficiency in distribution is evident in data surveyed from a day in 1997 which shows that one market had 15 excess buyers, and consequently a price of 9.9 rupees/kg of sardines, while another market had 11 excess sellers and no buyers present—setting the price at 0.0 rupees (Table 1).

jensen2007Table 1. Prices and excess supply and demand in fifteen sardine beach markets on January 14, 1997 in Kerala, India. (Source: Jensen, 2007)

The diffusion of mobile phones in Kerala was in several phases, relating to the installation of cellular towers across the state. Jensen (2007: 912) mapped the increase in phone use as towers were rolled out across Kerala across three regions. The pattern correlated strongly with sharp and sudden changes in pricing across the markets. Data was collected across markets in each of these areas, and the adherence of each region to the ‘law of one price’, which states that identical goods in markets should be priced the same, was calculated (Table 2). Prior to the rollout of phones, there was a 44-60% deviation from the law of one price in each given region. As each region acquired cell towers, the deviation from the law of one price was reduced down to 2-5%, or nearly perfect adherence.

jensen2-2007Table 2. Table 2. Violation of the ‘Law of One Price’ before and after the adoption of mobile phones in Kerala markets. (Source: Jensen, 2007)

Previously, there prices were distributed unevenly across the Kerala markets, and some markets had excess supply, and others shortages. This led to waste of between 5-8% of the daily catch of fish. After the adoption of mobile phones, fishermen began to carry with them lists of dozens of potential buys in different markets, and engaged in a “virtual auction” for the best price for their catch before heading towards the coast (Jensen, 2007: 892). This effectively increased the sale choices for fishermen, and reduced uncertainty and economic risk, and they began travelling outside local markets. Following the adoption of mobile phones, markets across Kerala achieved a price equilibrium, whereby all markets had supplies of fish; prices were the same across all markets, described as ‘the law of one price’. Here every fisherman maximized benefits each day, and there was zero waste of daily catch (Jensen, 2007: 883). In addition to establishing market equilibrium, the reduction in waste led on average to a 23kg increase in sales, and a 0.05 rupee/kg decline in price across all markets. The overall effect was an 8% increase in profits for fishermen on average (Jensen, 2007: 914). Consumers also benefited from the equilibrium achieved in the market, as for example in the sardine markets they paid, on average, 6% less for the same amount of fish as before (Jensen, 2007: 919).

One confounding factor in correlating mobile phone adoption with the establishment of price equilibriums across markets was the possibility of increased demand due to increased wealth. If the adoption of mobile phones can improve the economic state of a region, it is possible that individual demand will increase and thus reduce waste, rather than the market equilibrium effect. Jensen (2007: 908) found empirically that across the state there had not been a huge shift in wealth that demand had not increased although the markets had achieved price equilibrium. It can be said then, that the changes in decision making, due to increased choice and reduced risk, led to distinct differences between the markets before and after the introduction of mobile phone. Interestingly, Jensen (2007: 917) also found that despite partial adoption of cell-phones, non-users of mobile phones also enjoyed reaped benefits as the markets began to achieve equilibrium in supply and demand.


5. SOCIO-CULTURAL OUTCOMES

The economic impact and utility of a technology is critical in allowing its diffusion into a society. However, there are many non-economic factors that contribute to the full integration of technologies into a culture. It is apparent across the world introduction of information and communications technologies can have profound impact on the way individuals interact with one another, and their position in societies. In this section, the social and economics outcomes of mobile phone introduction into Kerala’s fishing communities will be examined in two ways. First, changes in horizontal social structures will be explored, which are the social networks that individuals are embedded in and interact with. Second, changes in vertical social structures will be explored, including socio-economic status and political relations.

The Supply Chain

The mobile phone has been transformative at every level of the supply chain in Kerala’s fishing industry. The importance of this technology has been discussed with regards to fishermen in the previous two sections. However, mobile phones have also played an important role downstream of the supply chain. Fish vendors and merchants, for example, use mobile phones to stay in contact with another to monitor demand, allowing sellers to get the best prices, but also buyers to get the best deals (Abraham, 2006: 11). Previously, propitiators who hired fishermen had to wait at the shore all day for their boats to come in, as times were often unknown. Now time is saved because being in contact with fishermen, they know when the boats are coming and can spend time on other ventures (Abraham, 2006: 13). However, Abraham (2006: 15) suggests that mobile phones have in fact disproportionately benefitted users downstream, who had more access to capital and received a head-start compared to upstream of the supply chain, the fishermen. As well, those downstream can filter the knowledge that fishermen receive. In this scenario, the inequality gap is not created between fishermen, rather across the supply chain. However, as discussed earlier, though such phenomenon has been observed elsewhere, there is not empirical evidence to support this in Kerala.

A second point of contention has been the questions of the extent to which decisions made are constrained by socio-cultural factors. In the case of Keralite fishermen, there has been suggestions that they do not consistently go to markets offering highest prices to maximize their incomes. Rather they go to ports where their commission agents are present, out of a social obligation tied to these agents’ investment in their business (Farrell et al., 2010). Others have observed that commissioner agents can intimidate boats to go in markets where they’re not necessarily maximizing their profit—rather to markets where commissioner agent can make the most commission (Abraham, 2006: 12). Jensen (2007: 887) observed no empirical evidence of such social constrains on the market from the data they acquired. It must be noted also that Abraham (2006) reported that such behavior was reported less by fishermen, perhaps as a byproduct of free flow of information.

Cooperation and collusion

Studies in many regions in the world have found that the integration of cell phones has led to an “involution” of individuals in rural and urban areas, which leads to closed social networks and more individualized societies (Sreekumar, 2011:173). A study in urban Kerala found that increasing permeation of mobile phones led to the contraction of the social circle of relationships in urban contacts— that is individuals became more insulated within their social networks (Palackal et al., 2011: 406). Sreekumar (2011), however, conducted a qualitative study and found that among Kerala’s fishermen the use of mobile phones has reinforced their culture of cooperation, as they use the tool to contact one another to increase opportunity and diffuse risk. Additionally not cooperating leads to stigmatization in the society and disadvantages individuals who will be excluded from fishermen’s networks. Finally, as described earlier, mobile phones have also given the regions’ fisherman access to a broader network for business arrangements and sales of their goods.

However, mobile phones have opened up the opportunity of collusion by sellers and buyers who may also conspire to punish those who conduct trade outside local markets. Jensen (2007: 909) found in empirical studies of Kerala’s fish sales no collective or collusive behavior, in terms of cooperation for getting a greater quantity of variability in catch, or collusion of buyers and sellers to punish and exclude those who do not participate in local markets, or undercut prices in different markets. He suggests that private calls over phones as opposed to public auctions probably made such collusive behavior more difficult. However, qualitative studies and interviews of fishermen suggest that collusive behavior does in fact exist among buyers of fish who call each other for information about prices in different markets in a practice called chavitti pidikkal, or ‘keeping price under the bottom of the feet’ (Sreekumar, 2011: 175). It may be the case, however, that such behaviors are not widespread enough to upset the equilibrium of the market.

Gender differences

fisherwoman

In the fishing communities of Kerala, males are not necessarily the head of the household, rather women and men can both organize economies activities and budgets—and thus multiple men and women in an intergenerational household can be considered the heads of households (Hapke, 2004: 316). Traditionally, across all fishing communities women are responsible for processing of fish byproducts, also for household chores, and managing family affairs such as marriages, finances etc, whereby in the rest of Keralite society men fulfill these roles. In Hindu and Muslim communities, men are largely vendors, whereas among the Catholic fishermen of Kerala, males fish fulltime, and the majority of wives, and unmarried older daughters, are vendors fulltime or part time (Hapke, 2004: 319). Despite their involvement with the industry, mobile phone adoption by women in fishing communities has been much less than men, as for them, the possession of mobile phones is seen as a luxury. However, this differential adoption in mobile phone usage has created an information asymmetry along gender lines, particularly disadvantaging women. This is described by a portion of an interview of a female vendor in a Kerala fish market:

“When men began to use cell phones, there was no way women vendors could get and idea of what was happening. Beach auction was a transparent event. Everyone knows what’s happening. Now suddenly women were left out. They had no way to bargain.” (Sreekumar, 2011:176)

Increasingly, in recent years, women have also began to adopt mobile phones. The advantages for these vendors have been twofold. First, they’re once again regaining access to the broader trade networks that they were cut off from. Second, mobile phones provide these vendors with security, allowing them to travel further distances to sell fish, while staying in contact with their family for safety. Nevertheless, the patterns of use of mobile phones are still gendered, for example men used tools such as text-messaging, radio and music—while women have been found to use mobile phones exclusively for voice calls (Sreekumar, 2011:176).


6. CONCLUSION

The original question which this paper sought to answer was whether the adoption of mobile phones in Kerala enhanced users’ the capacity for decision-making by increasing choice and reducing risk, thereby meeting the needs of that particular context. This paper has examined a variety of ways that mobile phones have been integrated into the culture of fishing communities in spatial, economic and social contexts. Furthermore, the paper identified various behavior and exploitative patterns in fishing behavior that have changed, or have been reinforced as a consequence of this technology. A survey asking what technologies the fishermen of Kerala considered important in changing their societies found that mechanization was considered the most important, followed by better transportation and roads that would allow greater access to inland markets, and finally greater use of mobile phones (Abraham, 2006: 16). However, as we observed, the process of mechanization was entirely different from the adoption of mobile phones in fishing communities, and therefore we cannot necessarily draw the integration of one technology and its consequences as a template for another.

A remaining question is 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. Foss (2009: 136) has observed that the geographical orientation of local markets in the region might be to a large extent responsible for the “miraculous effects” observed with respect to market equilibrium. If this is true, we could not assume that similar successes could be produced in other fish markets. However, economic successes have been seen with the integration of mobile phones in other industries and other countries. It is also evident that the increasingly lower prices, simplicity, and versatility that have promoted the diffusion of mobile phones in Kerala will also promote their productive use in a wide range of other settings.

It is important to note that most studies thus far examine the early adoption of cell phones, in the past decade, where fishing communities may still have been trying to figure out how to use the technology and integrate it into their daily lives. However, as the technology has been fully diffused and adopted into the society, people have begun to use it in ways that related to core cultural values such as ‘cooperation’. In Kerala, it appears so far that mobile phones streamline the day to day affairs of fishermen in the information marketplace. However, they also work in the context of, and reinforce, the socio-cultural structures of these fishing communities, rather than creating any fundamental changes in these structures.


7. REFERENCES

    Abraham, R. (2006). Mobile Phones and economic development: Evidence from the fishing industry in India. International Conference on information and Communication Technologies and Development. Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (US).
    Antony, M. (2011). Communication parameters in the marine fisheries sector of Kerala (Doctoral dissertation). Cochin University of Science and Technology. Chochin, Kerala, India.
    Balan, K., Panikkar, K.K.P, Jacob, T., Andrews, J., Rajendran , V. (1989). Motorization of country craft in Kerala – an impact study. CMFRI Special Publication, 45: 1-33.
    Farrell, R., Danis, C., Erickson, T., Ellis, J., Christensen, J., Bailey, M., & Kellogg, W. A. (2010). A Picture and a Thousand Words: Visual Scaffolding for Mobile Communication in Developing Regions. International Journal of Handheld Computing Research (IJHCR), 1(4): 81-95.
    Foss, S., Couclelis, H. (2009). Throwing space back in: a tale of Indian fishermen, ICT and travel behavior. Journal of Transport Geography, 17(2): 134-140.
    Hapke, H. (2004). Gender, Work, and Household Survival in South Indian Fishing Communities: A Preliminary Analysis. The Professional Geographer, 53(3): 313-331.
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    Kurien, J. (2001) The socio-cultural aspects of fisheries: Implications for food and livelihood security. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 401. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
    Meynen, W. (1989). Fisheries Development, Resources Depletion and Political Mobilization in Kerala: The Problem of Alternatives. Development and Change, 20: 735–770.
    Palackal, A., Nyaga Mbatia, P., Dzorgbo, D.B., Duque, R.B., Ynalvez, M.A., Shrum, W.M. (2011). Are mobile phones changing social networks? A longitudinal study of core networks in Kerala. New Media & Society, 13: 391-410.
    Rashid, A.T., Elder, L. (2009). Mobile Phones and Development: An Analysis of IDRC-Supported Projects. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, 36: 1-16.
    Sreekumar, T.T. (2011). Mobile Phones and the Cultural Ecology of Fishing in Kerala, India. The Information Society, 27(3): 172-180.
    Srinath, K. (1988). Psycho-social aspects of fishermen with respect to motorization. Marine Fisheries Information Service: Technical and Extension Series, 89: 13-15.
    Steward, J. (1955). Theory of culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. Urbana: Univ. Illinois Press.
    Sullivan, K. (2006). For India’s Traditional Fishermen, Cellphones Deliver a Sea Change. Washington Post, p. A01.
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One response so far

  1. Very well authored piece. Seems like this is still a low tech innovation using Voice and SMS texting capabilities. Has anything changed with the proliferation fo Smart phones? How do Fishermen ensure confidentiality of bids in the virtual auction process?

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