Mobile Phones and Expanding Human Capabilities

Matthew L. Smith, Randy Spence, Ahmed T. Rashid


The explosion of mobile phones and their impacts on human well-being have been a central focus of ICT4D research of late (Donner, 2008). This prominence is deserved and should continue in the foreseeable future. This article argues that mobile phones constitute the basis for one of the greatest expansions of human capabilities in known history, and in a remarkably short timeframe. Furthermore, this expansion is expected to continue apace and, more likely, to accelerate. In particular, this article applies Amartya Sen’s capability approach (1999) which highlights expansions of freedoms in areas such as social and governance networks that encourage us to look beyond economic measures of development.
The paper advances with two strands. It begins by conceptually linking mobile phones and the expansion of human capabilities. It then presents evidence that mobiles have been the platform for a uniquely massive and multidimensional enhancement of capabilities in developing countries. Following this, the paper reflects on some policy issues and implications, particularly with respect to regulatory reform, universal access, and the uses of mobile communication in increasing non-
economic capabilities and freedoms.


mobile phones, ICT4D, governance networks

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