Mobile phones and shifting Maasai social networks in northern Tanzania

Authors: Timothy Baird*, Virginia Tech, Emily Woodhouse, University College London, J. Terrence McCabe, University of Colorado, Boulder
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Communication, Africa
Keywords: Mobile phones, ICTs, social networks, Maasai, Africa, Tanzania
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: 8228, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Mobile phones have been heralded as transformative new tools to reduce global poverty by reducing barriers to information, promoting market efficiency, boosting savings, managing risk and expediting adaptive responses. In rural areas of the developing world, social networks of reciprocal exchange have long served many of these functions. This research asks the question: as mobile technologies proliferate how are social networks changing. This paper offers early qualitative and quantitative findings from a multi-year data collection with Maasai agro-pastoralists in northern Tanzania. Here we focus on: (1) shifts in clan-based and age-set social organization; (2) the expansion of social networks (randomly and non-randomly); (3) changing patterns of reciprocal exchange; (4) and the universal trappings of mobile phones. Unsurprisingly, phones create new opportunities and challenges for Maasai communities, which illustrate both cultural entrenchment and evolution.

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