Standard Research Grant: STS: Dynamics of Mobile Phone Appropriation by Migrant Populations in Seattle, Washington

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The global spread of mobile telephony has made digital communication more accessible to a wide range of populations: wealthy and low-income, adults and youth, employed and unemployed, citizen and migrant. Dropping costs, targeted services, and a growing appreciation of the value of anytime/anywhere communication has moved people from all walks of life to incorporate mobile phones into their everyday routines. There is ample evidence, however, that patterns of use can differ dramatically within and between groups, driven by sociocultural, economic, and political contexts as well as individual motivations (Castells et al, 2006). Understanding these different patterns sheds light on the conditions (opportunities and constraints) that shape technology use and their significance for quality of life. In an increasingly digital world, such insights are critical for institutional, national, and global policy on technology development in general, but especially for harnessing digital communication technologies for social, economic, and political development.

The research will explore how Mexican migrants in Seattle use mobile phones and identify the extent to which the emerging communication practices serve to maintain, expand, and/or diversify the migrants’ social and economic networks, as well as how this affects not only the migration experience, but also the broader ecology of mobile phone service provision. The study asks 2 key questions: (1) how do migrant populations appropriate mobile phones to meet their social and employment-related goals? and (2) does their behavior lead to transformations in their livelihoods, in the mobile phone industry, and/or the landscape of migrant services in the US and Mexico? The proposed research will consist of qualitative interviews conducted with three categories of respondents: (1) Seattle-based Mexican migrants between the ages of 18-55 and some family members in Mexico, (2) mobile phone network providers in the US and Mexico, and (3) migrant services agencies in the Seattle area.

Grant Info


Araba Sey


Maria Garrido

Grant Dates

Jan 1, 2013 – May 1, 2013