ICTD 2016| Caring for the “Next Billion” Mobile Handsets: Proprietary Closures and the Work of Repair

Lara Houston, Steven J. Jackson


ICTD is profoundly interested in the “next billion” users and how information infrastructures might provide opportunities for enhancing their life chances. In this article we ask how the concept of care might be generatively extended to the “lives” of the “next billion” mobile handsets. We draw on a growing literature on repair in ICTD and HCI and on theories of care from the social sciences to make two contributions. First, our ethnographic study of mobile phone repair in downtown Kampala, Uganda provides new insights into how technologies are sustained in developing contexts, with a special focus on how independent repair technicians circumvent the proprietary closures that limit their work. Second, we show how attending to care in ICTD contexts can help us locate forms of technical work (here, repair) within wider moral and political orderings. Thinking about repair and care together opens new possibilities for ICTD to engage with the materiality of technologies beyond the points of design, adoption and use the field has more typically privileged.


repair, care, mobile telephony, Uganda, infrastructure

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