de Bruijn, “Connecting in mobile communities: An African case study”

Bruijin, “Connecting in mobile communities: An African case study” MCS 36.3 (Apr. 2014) (16 pags)

de Bruijn had the opportunity to trace the communication networks and travel employed by a Cameroonian family who are globally dispersed. de Bruijn compares the mobile economies of two generations of this family: where the family’s patriarch (now deceased) used the mobility of the car to maintain family connections, the current generation of family members uses other mobile technologies to maintain connections. As such, he questions, “how revolutionary has the introduction of the mobile phone technology been in ‘remote’ Africa in relation to the mobile communities that have been formed over long experiences of migration” (322).

Starting with an introduction, de Bruijn writes that (cheap) wireless technologies allowed for connections not possible before due to poor road infrastructure. Communication, then, became key in maintain connectivity. (Castells et all 2007 writes that communities not connected through communication networks constitute the “fourth world”). Interestingly, the family of focus both had a strong with to move away while simultaneously held strong feelings of belonging to their home community and family; however, such contradiction is rationalize through the history of their culture/community: “both mobiliies [car and wireless technology] are accepted as part of the culture and customs, both then and now. When we ask people why the Grassfields are so mobile, the answer is that mobility is a part of their history, the chiefdoms are all based on migration and, in colonial times, forced labour to the plantations also led to a mobile culture of ‘bush falling.’ It is therefore not strange that Moh’s [eldest son & current patriarch] absence does not seem to impact on his successful functioning within the family” (326).

de Bruijn also alludes the need for constant connection which can often translate to a highly and overly controlling family environment; however, the family is able to remain together by upholding their values through these exchanges.

TO conclude, de Bruijn notes argues that while there appears to be drastic change in the technologies of communication—namely mobile technology—there still remains “a basic ‘grammar’ of communication that refers to values and norms in society that have been there for a long time” (331). What may be different, however, between the generations is “a period of connectivity and (re) celebration of belonging, thus reinforcing the social fabric despite the physical distances” (332). de Bruijn offers the idea of transnational habitus (Vuorela 2002): “people who live around the world are very much involved in similar normative frames and rules in their daily lives and have shared emotions…People ‘belong’ to these networks and are willing to play the roles expected of them. The concept of habitus instead emphasizes continuity and not so much social change” (332).


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