Dissertation Abstracts

The Economic and Social Effects of Mobile Phone Usage: The Case of Women Traders in Accra

Author: Ussher, Yvette A.A, yvetteotoo@yahoo.com
Department: Sociology and Social Anthropology
University: Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Supervisor: Dr Lloyd B. Hill
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Mobile phone , Inequality , informal economy
Areas of Research: Communication, Knowledge and Culture , Women in Society , Work


Research on the impact of mobile phones – and associated information and communication technologies (ICTs) – on micro and small enterprises (MSEs) is on the ascendancy in the contemporary “ICT for Development” (ICT4D) scholarship milieu. There have however been relatively few studies focusing on both access and the quality of mobile phone use in the informal MSE sector. This is particularly conspicuous in the case of Ghana, where there is not much research on the impact of mobile phones on the businesses and lives of informal micro-traders. This thesis explores the manner in which women micro-traders have integrated mobile phones into their businesses and how this has affected their lives. The research takes the form of a multi-sited case study and uses semi-structured interviews and participant observation to explore patterns of mobile phone use among women in four markets in Accra – Makola, Agbogbloshie, Kaneshie and Madina. The study focuses specifically on micro-traders working in the wholesale and retail markets for vegetables and textiles. Two broad conclusions follow from this research. Firstly, at the level of individual experiences, the women traders recount how mobile phones have become indispensable to their trading activities. The study finds that mobile phones improved the working routine of the women in a number of ways: by improving the exchange of market information (via calls and to some extent texting); by enhancing the coordination of micro-trading activities; by strengthening relationships and trust within trading networks; and by helping to reduce transactional and transportation costs. The effects of mobile phones on these women’s micro-trading activities have extended positively into their social lives. As profit margins have increased and costs have been reduced, the resulting improvement with respect to incomes has enabled these women to attain an improved ‘self-image’ and a new level of socio-economic status within the informal economy of Accra. Secondly, notwithstanding the benefits reported by the women micro-traders, the study also suggests wider patterns associated with digital inequality. The women had limited technological knowledge of their mobile phones, and made limited use of more advanced mobile services, such as mobile money transfer and mobile banking. These patterns are explained in terms of inequality with respect to various forms of literacy: basic language literacy; technical literacy; and information literacy. Key dimensions of inequality include age/intergenerational differences and educational differences. While the study explores these patterns of inequality with respect to mobile phone use, it concludes by arguing that the integration of mobile phones into micro-trading has introduced some formality into the domain of informal micro-trading in Accra. This therefore has complicated the common sense distinction between the formal and informal economies in Accra.

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