ICAS10 | 21-23 July 2017 | Chiangmai, Thailand

Newton Mobility Grants
Scheme 2016

British Academy &
Office of Higher Education
Commission, Thailand

Centre for Contemporary Social and
Cultural Studies, Faculty of Sociology
and Anthropology, Thammasat University

Media Ethnography Group,
Department of Media and Communications,
Goldsmiths, University of London

Mobile Technology and the Paradoxes of Connectivity in Southeast Asia

The Tenth International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS10)

Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Saturday 22 July 2017 | 9.15-13.15 hrs | Room 16

This panel is a comparative exploration of emergent dimensions of mobile communication environments and everyday practices in Southeast Asia. It brings together anthropologists and media researchers working in Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Thailand with a shared focus on conceptualising mobile technology and agency in the context of fast developing telecommunication infrastructures and diverse and volatile state control regimes in the region.

Over the last five years mobile telecommunications services have expanded rapidly if unevenly across Southeast Asia. Whilst Thailand and Vietnam have long had among the world’s highest per capita rates of mobile phone subscription, the more or less extensive liberalization of mobile telecommunication infrastructure in both Lao PDR and Myanmar has led to steep increases in mobile adoption in the last two to three years. Notwithstanding continuing socio-spatial inequalities of access to mobile services, for the majority of the population in Thailand, Vietnam, Lao PDR and Myanmar a mobile phone has become an intrinsic part of everyday life. The infrastructures of mobile telecommunications are also undergoing rapid transformation with the recent introduction of third generation and anticipated roll-out of fourth generation mobile broadband networks. Industry forecasts predict that mobile broadband adoption will continue to grow rapidly, driven by the market in affordable internet-enabled handsets and subscription packages targeting lower income users previously excluded from the market.
In tension with the liberalization of national telecommunications markets is another regional trend: states in the region have sought to harness the economic promise of digital connectivity, whilst simultaneously conducting mass surveillance and exercising stringent political control over the way in which their citizens use these communication infrastructures. Whilst there is no shortage of optimistic market analysis of the broader trends of digital connectivity in Southeast Asia there is a relative lack of scholarship on the highly diverse everyday practices of mobile media use emerging in the region. This knowledge gap persists despite a growing body of research that has emphasized the locally contingent, culturally specific nature of mobile use.
In relation to this background the panel explores the paradoxes of digital connectivity emerging in Southeast Asia and their impacts on the space and time of social action by staging a dialogue between scholars investigating diverse local contexts and everyday practices of mobile mediated communication and use.