Self Determined Participatory Action of Marginalized Groups: The streets of São Paulo

Mobile Activism and Social Change

The purpose of the following text is to give an overview about the
worldwide rise digital activism to provoke social change with a special emphasis on mobile phone activism.
It is work in progress and by
far not complete
. This initial version is based on the corresponding
paragraphs written for the research proposal of this thesis. 

The current text tries to classifiy different forms of mobile activism according to existing projects and movements that facilitates mobile phones in their struggle. The classification is currently somewhat limited and needs to be elaborated further. The main aim is to get a rough overview about the context in which mobile phones are used more frequently (such as advocacy or crisis monitoring to name just a few) and in which areas mobile phones are not used yet used so frequently.

rise of the network society, the growing connection of the
disconnected by the spread of ICT throughout all layers of society
and the availability of more low-cost tools such as free software and
mobile phones lead to a creation of projects and movements with the
direct aim to exercise social power, to request the right to human
rights and to foster development of the previously excluded. This
model of social change is driven by the needs of the people in
contrast to the “traditional development model, where technology
tends to be shaped by the economic forces that created it

(Ekine et al, 2009).

model of social change is not only driven by the needs of the people
but is constructed by the very same people as well, thus it is
constructed from the grassroots level. Since one decade, various
projects adopt mobile communication for crisis and election
monitoring, citizen journalism or the organisation of campaigns,
protests and advocacy.

1999, the organizers and protesters against the World Trade
Organisation meeting in Seattle organized their protest by means of
mobile phones. In 2001, mobile phones where used in the Philippines
to organize massive protests and the gathering of almost 1 million
people to the end of the presidency of Jose Estrada. During the
orange revolution in the Ukraine in 2004 protest against manipulated
election results was organized by mobile communication. During the
Burmese anti-government protests of 2007, mobile communication and
the internet was used to document atrocities committed in Burma to
the outside world (Ramey, 2008). These are just a few examples, many
more exist, sometimes with far reaching consequences but often just
locally bounded.

different modes of usage of mobile communication for the construction
of social change can be classified as it is shown in the following






gender based violence

platform in Sri Lanka

violence in Kenya

building maps of favelas in Rio de Janeiro

in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia

in Mexico

platform in Zimbabwe

Monitoring in India

Crime Map

for homeless

news platform

of Human Rights violations in DRC

SMS campaign
in Califormia

in Adghanistan

crisis map

1: ICT usage classification according to information found on
and “SMS Uprising: Mobile Activism in Africa”

table represents just a rough overview and is by far not complete.
Areas such as the previously mentioned protest organisation or
helplines and info services such as Avaaj
Otalo: Voice-based social media for rural India
are not taken
into account. However, this initial classification may give further
hints in which areas ICT is adopted more frequently to foster social
change and which areas are relatively under-represented.

and advocacy to gain a wider public for issues such as HIV and gender
seems to be conducted more frequently, as well as projects concerned
with humanitarian issues such as human rights violations and
monitoring of crises as in the case of Haiti.

the other hand, conducting surveys or producing maps of the
environment seem to be done less often.

mentioned by Ekine et al (2009), many projects are deployed by NGO’s,
for example from the humanitarian sector, and are based on funding.
This is often inevitable due to needs of technical infrastructure
such as in the case of citizen journalism platforms which need to
deploy servers, websites and several channels for two-way
communication, in addition to the people that keep the system
running. In other cases, the recipients of a project lack the
necessary tools such as mobile phones or the money for airtime, thus
technology and airtime must be provided which is only possible with

addition, the focus of projects serves varying interests. Crisis
monitoring may increase the awareness of local humanitarian workers
and citizens due to reported incidents but also leads to a higher
transparency in reporting. Traditional mass media may not be able to
cover all incidents and may have no interest in transparent reporting
at all. Here, the involvement of the local people to report incidents
may first of all serve to rise the public/global awareness because
all reports are available through the internet, but due to the nature
of monitoring, it cannot prevent the outbreak of a crisis (which has
several reasons, often out of control of the people as in the case of
natural disasters).

there seems to be little examples that talk about the usage of the
information produced in the course of a project and what social
impact they finally had.

The following References can also be found in the corresponding zotero.org

Ekine, S. et al., 2009. Sms Uprising Mobile Phone Activism in Africa., Gardners Books.  

Ramey, C., 2008. Mobile Phones in Mass Organizing: A MobileActive White Paper. MobileActive.org. Available at: http://mobileactive.org/mobiles-in-mass-organizing [Accessed February 26, 2010].

Category: mobile activism, theoretical framework, thesis


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