Mobile phones and Gender Empowerment: Enactment of ‘Restricted Agency’
Hoan, Nguyen Thi
Date of Issue2016
The Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD '16)
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
The Capability Approach, as developed by Amartya Sen, has been criticized for an overly individualistic approach, while simultaneously being re-framed in alignment with the dominant social structure. We situate individual agency within the frame of social power structures, examining agency and empowerment gained by mobile phone usage from 26 Vietnamese foreign brides in Singapore. We use an intersectionality perspective from gender studies to find that, while facing multiple grounds of discrimination from the dominant group, the women constantly negotiate at the intersections of gender, ethnicity and social class, leading to two active strategies for positive well-being and empowerment: Essentialization of gender and Aspiration. The mobile phone was found to be an active agent in facilitating their aspiration for individual changes, autonomy, and more powerful decision making roles in domestic and social domains - a variety of communicative practices developed their capabilities. On the other hand, Mobiles also mediated the enactment and practices of the foreign brides' essential beliefs of their own idealized femininity and traditional gender roles, in contrast with the dominant development discourse of women's empowerment. The socio-cultural contexts influencing processes of technological appropriation is discussed from the perspective of development, particularly re-framing Western notions of gender equality within the agentic framework.
© 2016 The authors, published by Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). This is the author created version of a work that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, published by ACM on behalf of the authors. It incorporates referee’s comments but changes resulting from the publishing process, such as copyediting, structural formatting, may not be reflected in this document. The published version is available at: [http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2909609.2909671].