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The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, 7 Volume Set by Fabienne Darling-Wolf, Radhika Parameswaran, Erica Scharrer, Vicki Mayer, Sharon Mazzarella, Kelly Gates, John Nerone, Angharad N. Valdivia

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10

Mobile Handsets from the Bottom Up

Appropriation and Innovation in the Global South

Cara Wallis, Jack Linchuan Qiu, and Rich Ling

ABSTRACT

This chapter provides a general mapping of grassroots practices associated with an alternative mobile handset culture that has emerged from the bottom up in the Global South. The authors highlight the social, economic, and institutional factors – in local as well as transnational contexts – that have contributed to “flexible” handsets and grassroots practices within this alternative model of social innovation. Drawing upon theories of user appropriation, they discuss three factors – economic constraints, flexible manufacturing, and cultures of tinkering – that have led to innovative handset production, consumption, and circulation. They then outline a general taxonomy of alternative, or flexible, handsets that includes used, refurbished, shanzhai (“bandit”), and counterfeit phones. They also discuss the importance of other cultural, social, and demographic factors – including age, gender, and locality – and show how various types of relationships – at the familial, peer, community, national, and even international level – sustain and are sustained by this multi-tiered handset ecology. Though the authors pay particular attention to China, such bottom-up innovation takes place in diverse contexts across the globe. In focusing especially on the information have-less (Qiu, 2009) – those with limited economic and social power in society – this ...

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