PhD Oral Exam - Geoffrey Hobbis, Social and Cultural Analysis
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
This thesis explores the experiences of villagers in the rural Lau Lagoon, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands, as they adopt mobile phones. I discuss how the adoption of mobile phone technology affects and is affected by existing information-communication technologies; how and to what extent Lau adoption of mobile phones is circumscribed by the marginal place of the Lau in globalized capitalist economies; and I elaborate on the main controversies that surround the adoption and use of mobile phones, local conceptualizations of how digital technologies work, their morality, what they are meant to be used for and for what they are not to be used. Specifically, I focus on the two primary functions of mobile phones in Gwou’ulu: the mobile phone as (1) telephone and (2) as movie-watching device.
Theoretically, I rework approaches to technography for an investigation of digital technology and media consumption with a focus on mobile phones—in 2014 of the approximate 250 adults living in Gwou’ulu, 100 owned a personal mobile phone and many more shared a mobile phone. Technography, or ethnographies of technology, offers a strategic multi-disciplinary combination that examines the historical, economic, political, religious, environmental and material conditions that constitute the realm of possibilities that constrain but also facilitate particular sets of choices made by individuals in response to the adoption of new technologies such as mobile phones. My methods for data collection are a combination of participant observation and open ended interviews on individual mobile phone usage.
My findings show village life in a transition period of technological and social digitization. They highlight how, in the Lau Lagoon, mobile phones shift information-communication technologies (ICTs) from the public to the private realm and how an individualized consumption of mobile phones fuels uncertainties as to if and how mobile phones, as telephone or as movie-watching devices, transform social relationships among village residents as well as relationships between villagers and their urban relatives. I argue that mobile phones and their diverse functions—from telephony to movie player to calculator—are best described as super-compositional objects because they encompass and agitate so many of the social relationships and cultural values that are otherwise the defining features of a particular group of peoples in a particular place.