Behind the Algorithms + Mobile Phones in the Transformation of the Informal Economy

Associate professor Jakob Svensson has just started new research project, funded by Vetenskapsrådet, about algorithms and how they influence our media flow.  The project will explore the cultural and social aspects that enclose the algorithms. Read more at 

Jakob is also the cowriter to the newly published article Mobile phones in the transformation of the informal economy: stories from market women in Kampala, Uganda in Journal of Eastern Africa Studies.

This research project is situated within the area mobile technologies for development (M4D), i.e. that mobile communication technologies play a vital role in the livelihood of people in developing regions. Out of a larger explorative study of how market women in Kampala use their mobile phone(s), this article focuses on the transformation of the so-called informal economy, here in the form of Kampala street markets. Departing from stories of the women themselves, the article discusses the role of mobile telephony in this transformation. The street markets today have become hybridized as mobile money allows for non-street transactions. The appropriation of the mobile phone into these micro enterprises, we argue, has the potential to produce new regulatory spaces, considering that mobile services, located in the formal sector, are deeply embedded in Kampala’s informal economic practices. To make sense of these results, we turn to science, technology and society studies (STS). STS helps us understand the mutual co-production of mobile phone practices and the transformation of the street markets. The mobile phone represents a force for change in the market women’s economic activities, at once challenging and reinforcing the informality of the Kampala markets.