Research Talk by A/P Milagros (Millie) Rivera

“Mobile phones and the creation of alternative spaces by South African youths”


Date & time:

Wednesday, 11 April, 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM



School of Computing

13 Computing Drive

Singapore 117417



Many studies focusing on developing countries or marginalized communities have framed mobile phones as an effective strategy for poverty reduction, citing their relative lower infrastructural cost compared to landlines, relative affordability compared to the personal computer, important role in information dissemination, and ease of use (Bhavnani, Chiu, Janakiram, & Silarszky, 2008; Diga, 2008; Slater & Kwami, 2005; Cecchini & Scott, 2003). While poverty and social inequalities are important issues, research focusing on the social use of mobile phones would provide a greater understanding on how people in developing countries have appropriated the technology and the role that it plays in their lives. Moreover, such a study could help assess the cultural impact of the mobile phone and uncover the symbolic meanings that are attached to the artifact and its use. Finally, although much research has been conducted on marginalized communities, these communities are made up of pockets of people who differ in social status and life circumstances. For instance, among the economically disadvantaged there may be various groups who face different challenges and for whom the mobile phone may play a different role.

This paper focuses on such a group. Specifically, we examined how South African youths from the township of Makhaza in Khayelitsha, transitioning from high school to tertiary education or full time employment, used their mobile phones and the meanings that the devices hold for them. Using “space” as a key construct, this paper relies on Victor Turner’s theory of ‘liminality’ (Turner, 1979), Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopias as conceptualized by Wearing (1999), and the power of contexts and spaces Shields (1991), to understand the uses of, and meanings ascribed to, mobile phones by youth in transition. The interplay between these theoretical approaches paints a bigger picture of the youths’ lives and social circumstances and how these, in turn, are represented and expressed through the everyday use of mobile phones.



Associate Professor Milagros (Millie) Rivera is the Head of the Department of Communications and New Media in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore. Dr. Rivera’s work centers on new media regulation and the impact of new media on society and individuals. Her work has been published in Communication Education, New Media and Society; Communications of the Association for Computer Machinery; Journal of Science, Technology and Society; Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies; Asian Pacific Law and Policy Journal; Media Asia; Asian Journal of Communication; Journalism and Mass Communication Monographs; Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly; Journalism History; Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal; Federal Communications Law Journal; World Internet Law  Report; and Communications and the Law.