My PhD-ethnography “The mobile phone in urban Kenyan everyday life” is published as a book with Springer VS

Das Mobiltelefon im Alltagsleben des urbanen Kenia_books

After years of fieldwork and writing, I am proud to announce that my PhD-media ethnography has recently been published as a monograph with Springer VS:

Waltinger, Michael (2018): Das Mobiltelefon im Alltagsleben des urbanen Kenia. Eine medienethnografische Studie zur Mobiltelefonaneignung. [The mobile phone in urban Kenyan everyday-life. A media ethnography on mobile phone appropriation.] Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 435 pages. Book details and table of contents [in German] available via Springer VS. ISBN: 978-3-658-25220-5. 49,99 € [Softcover] / 39,99 € [eBook].

In this media ethnography, Michael Waltinger describes the appropriation of mobile phones in the everyday life of an urban community in Eastlands Nairobi (Kenya).
As its vantage point, the fieldwork studies people’s socio-structural living conditions in order to see how these are a pre-condition for and intertwined with everyday media appropriation. This is to contextualize social action on the micro-level of the subject with the larger societal macro-structure in which media action is embedded.
Everyday phone usage in the urban community of the ethnography spans different spheres of life in multifaceted ways. While the mobile phone is perceived as an ambivalent artifact that interacts with peoples life-worlds in both positive and negative ways, it undeniably is an integrative part of the ‘way of life’ in contemporary urban Nairobi: among others, the mobile phone is a symbol for being part of the ‘global village’, it is a culturally codified and polysemic sign of social distinction, and it is a significate of a locally defined afro-modernity.

Preview on Google Books

Talk on “Interrogating M4D-tales: some sociostructural aspects of ICTs and social change in everyday-life” at the Nordic Africa Days 2016 (Uppsala University)


Photograph of the conference-bag (© Michael Waltinger, 2016)

Having been able to contribute to the Nordic Africa Institutes (NAI) Nordic Africa Days 2016 at Uppsala University was a great pleasure as well as a fruitful and stimulating experience.

It is not often that one has the opportunity to meet over 200 researchers from more than 36 countries, of which a vast part were African nations. Not only was it very exciting from an academic point of view, but also culturally enriching and great to make new friends and deepen existing relationships.

Personally, I have mostly attended panels around the broader areas of “ICT and Mobile Media”“Feminism” and “Urbanity and Urban Infrastructure”, which again, was a very enriching experience.

I have contributed to the first area myself with a talk in Panel 10: Gender at the cutting edge: ICTs, social media and social change in East Africa. The panel was organized by Ylva Ekström (Uppsala University, Sweden) and Hilda Arntsen ( Oslo and Akershus College, Norway), who have done a stellar job in putting the panel together in such a thoughtful way.

My contribution was a talk titled
Interrogating M4D-tales: some sociostructural aspects of ICTs and social change in everyday-life. 

Here is an abstract of the talk:

Author: Michael Waltinger (University of Education, Ludwigsburg Germany)

The integration of new media into the everyday and different dimensions of social life are deeply intertwined. Life structures are reflected by the way how media are embedded and given meaning to. The mobile phone in that regard allows, for instance, to examine aspects of the social structures (e.g. roles and mutual expectations) of men and women in society.

While the agency of the subject and increasing availability of media devices need to be stressed in media participation and social change, the importance of structural challenges must not be overlooked. As issues of media access diminish, issues of knowledge, skills and resources gain importance – especially in lower-income urban settings and among women.

Media participation is no sure-fire success initiated by media availability – techno-euphoria needs to be ‘handled with care’. While people certainly bring media competencies with them and also appropriate new competencies in their daily media usage, structural constraints are real and self-socialisation in media usage has its boundaries – these are marked by the life conditions of and (educational) resources available to people.

Women in urban Kenya often are part of the informal economy, do not advance much beyond primary education, and there often is a lack in public media education. At the same time, women do often voice need and interest in maximizing their knowledge in order to fully utilize mobile media to their needs. Structural constraints, however, keep them from attending workshops, skill trainings, and the like. The daily hustle and struggle as well as the social responsibility of woman for caring (and often providing) for their families make it difficult to attend trainings or workshops. Hence, while it is often the less-educated and socio-economically disadvantaged that would want assistance the most, these are exactly the people for whom it is most difficult to benefit from respective opportunities.


Talk and Workshop on “Media and Cultural Education” @Education is Relation not Output?-Conference (Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden)

Education is Relation not Output

The conference

It has been a great pleasure to attend the recent conference “Education is Relation not Output? – Scenes of Knowledge and Knowledge Acquisition” (May 17th-19th 2016) at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden.

The conference was held in cooperation with the international scientific network Tacit Dimensions of Pedagogy. The conference’s purpose was as follows:

Re-thinking the idea of university and scholarly life means to critically examine the conditions for teaching in terms of the current policy discourses and freely develop an idea of university out of an international perspectiveUniversity does not exist simply to convey information or expertise. It is a society in which everyone is responsible for in a reflected way participating in diverse relationships to him-/herself, to others and to the world, and, based on diverse forms of knowledge and representation, actively forming them. In this conference combined with other spaces for discussion perspective on university as a place for social development will be opened up by academic scholars as well as by professionals in the fields of school as well as of art.

My contribution on “Media and Cultural Education”

My own contribution was a talk and workshop that was held within the panel “Art, Visual Culture and Media“.

In my opening talk, I was aiming for tapping into the idea of shaping a perspective on university as a place for social development from an international perspective beyond simply conveying expertise, but to see the university as responsible in helping people to advance in a direction of reflectively participating in diverse relationships to oneself, others and the world.

Especially since contemporary life is happening in spaces of intense proximity, where the interdependence of the diverse nations and cultures becomes more and more obvious, it is important to empower people to competently navigate those spaces. Hence, I proposed an increased emphasis on and discussion of media and cultural education as a means to social cohesion within the university as a place of public education.

The conference paper of the talk (ca. 10 pages) can be downloaded here (pdf-file). A book publication as a conference outcome is forthcoming. My paper will be found there as an official publication then, too.

A short remark on (the type of) mobile phones in urban Kenya

When being asked about my PhD-research (which is on the meaning of mobile phones in urban Kenya), I all too often hear the question: “Do ‘they’ have phones there?”

The short answer is: Yes.

A slightly longer answer, with a bit more of an interpretive touch, may well be given by a participant of my field research – the person here talks about what happens if you get robbed (which might happen in Nairobi), and a robber ‘catches’ you with a cheap mobile phone (referred to as a kabambe in Nairobi):

Nowadays, if you walk with a kabambe, they [the thieves] even beat you up. Coz it can´t be that nowadays in Nairobi someone can walk without or doesn´t have a smartphone. field research participant (2014)

The word kabambe in Kiswahili refers to a very basic mobile phone, often not even a feature phone. A kabambe is typically locked to be used with one specific provider only. Its main functions usually are calling and texting – maybe also a calender, calculator and FM radio.

Example of a "kabambe" (© Michael Waltinger, 2013)

Example of a “kabambe” (© Michael Waltinger, 2013)

Talk on fostering Digital Literacy @ Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) 2015


The Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) 2015 with more than 400 participants from over 90 countries –  hosted by The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) – is in full swing and the first day of the main conference just came to an end. There was plenty of lively and fruitful debate on issues of internet access from a multi-dimensional perspective with a strong emphasis on social and structural inequalities.

I was pleased to be chosen to give a talk on “Promoting Digital Literacy in Developing Regions: Business Goals and Media Education in unison”, where I shifted the emphasis slightly from issues of physical access (i.e. the digital divide) to a more skill- or digital/media literacy-based approach to viewing barriers in access to the (mobile) internet – the so called “2nd-level digital divide”. My talk was inspired from and drew on my field research experiences from my ongoing PhD-research on the meanings of mobile phones in everyday life of urban Kenya (Nairobi).

SIF Unconference programme

While I was stressing the possibility of the corporate sector to bridge those gaps in media education that are not covered by public education curricula, I also pointed out the need of teaming up with professional (media) educators in order to carry out such trainings in a sensitive manner and not make them serve business interests alone. Here is the abstract of the talk I gave:

Physical access to the internet is still an issue in many sub-Saharan nations. What matters equally, however, are the still low levels of digital literacy among users. This is to say that the availability of digital media does not really help, if people have problems in using these services.
This is not only a problem because it means that people who can not fully use digital tools will suffer from further societal exclusion and economic disadvantages. The other problem is that media literacy training is often not part of public education and, if private lessons are taken, mostly expensive.
Since the digitally semi-literate represent a vast clientele of sub-Saharan media markets, I suggest that the mobile industry sets up training camps to bridge that gap in media education. This is not only to serve the public good (CSR) but also to develop businesses, because customers will be able to use the future services/devices. Users would benefit from media skills-development that leads to improved usage scenarios, while at the same time being part of the product design process and not having to appropriate technologies that were originally designed for other times and places (i.e. the west).

There was a short interview conducted with me just before the talk, which can be viewed below:

I am already looking forward to the second part of the conference tomorrow!

African Community Development (Indigenous Style): Chamas and Harambee as a case in point

Dandora with Nairobi river
Parts of Dandora with Nairobi river (© Michael Waltinger, field research, 2013)


The latest edition of one of my favorite sources for non-mainstream reporting on certain parts of Nairobi, the African Slum Journal, is on the changing faces of Dandora – a well-known place in Eastlands Nairobi that I have visited myself severally over the course of the past years. What I find remarkable about this particular episode is that it provides an excellent example of locally and culturally sensitive community development.

Dandora is a settlement in Nairobi (Kenya) that, according to the African Slum Journal report, was established in 1977 by the World Bank and the Nairobi City Council as a means of planned and affordable housing for low income populations in the area. Over the years, the area also became ‘home’ to one of the largest dumpsites in East Africa; which massively affects and pollutes the environment.

Local initiatives, however, have started to clean and color up the space with a two fold purpose: to develop their own community from within (through chamas as a financial and organizational form) in terms of developing a more habitable environment and also to bring down criminal activity by youth involvement and empowerment that in turn avoids idling.

As the community came to see the meaning and effect of the local initiative (health benefits, increased security, and so forth), residents of the area were increasingly ready and willing to contribute the monthly installments they could spare to that greater good. The organization, in turn, has then employed even more youths and equipped them with the tools necessary to carry out the community activities.

This is, in my opinion, a perfect example for the harambee-spirit that I got to know as being so typical for Kenya (and maybe other African communities as well) – and that is often used to fix community needs where the government fails to act[ref]Harambee, or “pulling together” for a common goal, is a form of community participation for which the late first president of independent Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, has called for. This cultural mode is also very visible e.g. in the educational sector, which in Kenya is often heavily underfunded by the government, thus requiring parents and other bodies to contribute to (private) schools teacher salaries, the land on which schools are to be constructed, furniture, school materials, morning snacks, and so forth. All in all, self-help projects (as an expression of underfunded infrastructure and services) are omnipresent in Kenya and lively proof for the vitality and efficiency of indigenous community development.
See for example in Swadener, Beth; Kabiru, Margaret; Njenga, Anne (2000): Does the village still raise the child? State University of New York Press.

[/ref] (which is in many instances) or where western ngo’s fail to engage with local needs in meaningful ways. It then is also an example of what non-top down grass roots approaches might look like that are locally relevant (by listening to the voices of the residents) and culturally embedded (chamas, harambee) and not designed from far away-world high-rise office desks.



Mobiles for Development (M4D)? Er, nah. Mobiles for Fun (M4F)!

Ory Okolloh, Google’s policy manager for Africa and a Kenyan lawyer and activist, tells the Guardian’s Activate summit in London that Africans don’t view technology simply as a tool of development.The Guardian

Guess what. Africans, just as Westerners, simply want to have fun with technology. Grande surprise. People in Africa do not want to transfer money via mobile banking services the entire day. Just imagine. People do not want to check for fair market prices or the next purified water dealer all the time. Crazy, eh? People are not using their phones only when pregnant and in need for maternity programs.

Not to me mistaken: all those are valuable uses. They indeed are. But what I find rather disturbing is that literature and news coverage on mobile phones in ‘Africa’ often focus on the so called M4D- or ICT4D-narrative (i.e. mobile phones/information and communication technology for development). But, truth to be told, what people really love doing is to just enjoy themselves with their technology by using Facebook, WhatsApp, buy and sell stuff on OLX, share and listen to the latest DJ sets, take and share pictures, discuss technical features of their phones against each other, and so forth.

And if there really is a crisis or whatever incident, then it is good people used their phones for fun, because that is how they got used to using them – also in case of an emergency like election monitoring (e.g. Ushahidi) or public outrage against unacceptable social action (e.g. #mydressmychoice in Kenya). More or less just like here, in the West, huh?!


Google’s Africa policy manager: ‘Africans enjoy technology’ – video

Life after high school in urban Kenya

Life after high school in Nairobi often differs from people’s dreams. This episode of African Slum Journal vividly depicts the experience of many people in Nairobi by the example of Collin, who dreamed of being an aeronautical engineer. However, a lack of employment opportunities (i.e. long term contract work) in Kenya’s capital often makes it difficult to get into something stable.

As many people in Nairobi, he chose to take fate into his own hands, dipping into the rich so called ‘informal’ or ‘jua kali’ business sector that provides about more than three quarters of the urban population with a livelihood. Collins is selling earrings and shirts now, instead of passively waiting for a formal employment opportunity that is probably never going to come.

So now he is his own boss –  a thing to be  proud of. “Use your talents, with or without high school”, he says.

Life after high school – African Slum Journal

There is no such thing as >Black Music<


Can we please somehow stop the blockheadedness of calling a certain kind of music genre “black music”?!
Thank you!

Otherwise I would need to insist on introducing another pigeonhole called “white music”. Sounds foolish, doesn’t it?!
Well, that’s because it is foolish!
Thank you once again! 


Mal angenommen, eine der großen Ketten […] käme auf die Idee, alles von Beethoven bis Strawinsky, von Elton John bis THE SMITHS, von Udo Jürgens bis Johnny Cash, unter die gemeinsame Rubrik “White Music” zu stellen – das Geschrei wäre groß. Undenkbar, eine so große kulturelle Vielfalt unter die banale, alles vereinende und damit nivellierende Kategorie der Hautfarbe zu stellen! Aber warum eigentlich nicht? Waren bzw. sind Beethoven und Morrisey nicht gleichermaßen “weiß”? Und könnte man nicht sogar aufgrund einer musikhistorischen, spitzfindig theoretisch untermauerten Genealogie erklären, dass es jenseits der gängigen Unterscheidung zwischen “E” und “U” eine ganze spezielle, alle oben genannten einende Tradition “weißer” Musikästhetik gäbe, deren Gemeinsamkeit beispielsweise in der auffälligen Abwesenheit von Groove liege? – So absurd diese Argumentation auch erscheinen mag, liegt ihr doch eine andernorts alltäglich wie selbstverständlich vollzogene Praxis zugrunde: Daran, dass sich in zahlreichen Plattenläden eine eigene Rubrik namens “Black Music” finden lässt, dass es Radiosendungen und Zeitschriften mit diesem Titel gibt […] und dass “Black Music” seit Beginn der (vornehmlich weißen) Pop-Geschichtsschreibung zu einem feststehenden Begriff geworden ist unter den sich heute je nach Belieben alles von Soul bis HipHop, von R&B bis House subsumieren lässt – daran haben wir uns längst gewöhnt.

Wenn aber das Spezifische oder doch zumindest Einende an so extrem unterschiedlichen Künstlern wie Richie Havens und Aretha Franklin, George Clinton und Cody Chesnutt ihre “Blackness” sein soll, dann wäre es nur zuträglich, diese banale Verengung auch auf Musikerinnen und Musiker weißer Hautfarbe anzuwenden. Dann nämlich erst, im Spiegel einer beleidigten, weil sich stets als künstlerisch gegenüber ‘Banalitäten’ wie Hautfarbe erhaben gerierenden, auf ‘individuelle Werdegänge’ beharrenden Hegemonialkultur, könnte entlarvend deutlich werden, mit welch diskursiv diskriminierender Gewalt der Begriff “Black Music” seitens weißer […] Geschichtsschreibung immer schon marginalisierende Zwecke verfolgte – nicht zuletzt jenen Zweck, mit einer Verengung auf “Soul-Disco-Dance-Groove” zu suggerieren, das ‘Schwarze’ in einer (implizit als hochwertiger gehandelten) Rockkultur keinen Platz haben und sich dort ja aufgrund ihrer musikalischen Tradition auch gar nicht aufgehoben fänden.

Dies ist nur eine der stillschweigend, also meist unausgesprochen mit dem Begriff der “Black Music” vorgenommenen Zuweisung und Ausgrenzung, deren essenzialistisches Vokabular sich selbst dort noch zu erkennen gibt, wo wohlwollend von der “Spiritualität” des Souls, vom Blues “im Blut” oder von der “Ursprünglichkeit”, wenn nicht gar “Besessenheit” des Grooves die Rede ist. Ausdrücke dieser Art, denen die alte Dichotomie zugrund liegt, “schwarze Kultur” als “körperlich” und “weiße” als “geistig” aufzufassen […], sind schon lange zu Gemeinplätzen im Musikjournalismus geworden. Testcard #13, 2004. Editorial, S. 4-6

Daran scheint sich, auch gut 10 Jahre nachdem Obenstehendes verfasst wurde, kaum etwas geändert zu haben.


Mehr zum Thema:

Arndt, Susan (2004): Kolonialismus, Rassismus und Sprache. Kritische Betrachtungen der deutschen Afrikaterminologie. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung: Online verfügbar.

Arndt, Susan; Ofuatey-Alazard, Nadja (Hrsg.) (2011): Wie Rassismus aus Wörtern spricht: (K)Erben des Kolonialismus im Wissensarchiv deutsche Sprache. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk. Münster: Unrast.

Hall, Stuart; Evans, Jessica; Nixon, Sean (Hrsg.) (2013): Representation. London: u.a.: Sage; The Open University.

Rodman, Gilbert B. (Hrsg.) (2014): The Race and Media Reader. New York; London: Routledge.

Waltinger, Michael (2013): Afrika(ner)bilder in westlichen Medien. Ungleichheit und die Repräsentation des Anderen im Zuge globaler Kommunikationsflüsse. [Africa(ns) in Western Media. Inequality and Representation of the Other in Global Flows of Communication.] In: Maurer, Bjoern; Reinhard-Hauck, Petra; Schluchter, Jan-René; von Zimmermann, Martina (eds.:): Medienbildung in einer sich wandelnden Gesellschaft. Festschrift für Horst Niesyto. Muenchen: kopaed, pp. 279-290.

Africans don’t want your stinky T-Shirts!