The Moral Economy of Mobile Phones

The Moral Economy of Mobile Phones

Pacific Islands Perspectives

Edited by: Robert J. Foster orcid, Heather A. Horst orcid

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The moral economy of mobile phones implies a field of shifting relations among consumers, companies and state actors, all of whom have their own ideas about what is good, fair and just. These ideas inform the ways in which, for example, consumers acquire and use mobile phones; companies promote and sell voice, SMS and data subscriptions; and state actors regulate both everyday use of mobile phones and market activity around mobile phones. Ambivalence and disagreement about who owes what to whom is thus an integral feature of the moral economy of mobile phones. This volume identifies and evaluates the stakes at play in the moral economy of mobile phones. The six main chapters consider ethnographic cases from Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu. The volume also includes a brief introduction with background information on the recent ‘digital revolution’ in these countries and two closing commentaries that reflect on the significance of the chapters for our understanding of global capitalism and the contemporary Pacific.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
May 2018
ANU Press
Pacific Series
Arts & Humanities: Cultural Studies; Social Sciences: Anthropology, Development Studies, Sociology
Pacific: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu

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  1. A Handset Dangling in a Doorway: Mobile Phone Sharing in a Rural Sepik Village (Papua New Guinea) (PDF, 1.3MB)David Lipset doi
  2. HIV, Phone Friends and Affective Technology in Papua New Guinea (PDF, 0.2MB)Holly Wardlow doi
  3. Toby and ‘the Mobile System’: Apocalypse and Salvation in Papua New Guinea’s Wireless Network (PDF, 1.0MB)Dan Jorgensen doi
  4. Creating Consumer-Citizens: Competition, Tradition and the Moral Order of the Mobile Telecommunications Industry in Fiji (PDF, 1.3MB)Heather A. Horst doi
  5. ‘Working the Mobile’: Giving and Spending Phone Credit in Port Vila, Vanuatu (PDF, 0.2MB)Daniela Kraemer doi
  6. Top-Up: The Moral Economy of Prepaid Mobile Phone Subscriptions (PDF, 1.6MB)Robert J. Foster doi



The book describes what happened in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific island nations when their governments opened up the telecommunications sector to market competition.
Peter Iglinski, Newscenter, Rochester University, 31 August 2018

The full review can been read via the Newscenter, Rochester University website

While deep ambivalence towards the adoption of digital technologies is nothing new, the moral element of these analyses in their Pacific contexts is striking, particularly where tensions between use and misuse and questions of social and political power are involved.

 —Christopher Thomson, Pacific Journalism Review, Vol24(4) 2018

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