Title: ‘What is new about what has always been’: Communication technologies and the meaning-making of Maasai mobilities in Ngorongoro
Other Titles: ‘What is new about what has always been’: Communication technologies and the meaning-making of Maasai mobilities in Ngorongoro
Authors: Nilsson, Jessika
Issue Date: 13-Oct-2016
Abstract: The research question is: how are human mobility practices continuously constructed and (re-)produced, through communication technology, in dialogue with members of a cultural group, and in its reaction to non-members? This anthropological research concerns how the Maasai, a semi-nomadic group in East Africa, relate to mobility. This dissertation examines how technologies of mobility and communication are making and reshaping Maasailand, replacing and enhancing the historical network of codes and rules that made Maasailand an efficient circulatory territory with fast informational exchange.
The objectives of this dissertation are to study the interstices between communication, technology and mobility and the imaginaries shaped there and to examine ‘what is new about what always has been’ in regards to communication, technology and mobility. The dissertation de-constructs the discourses shaping a culture that is mobile. I study the concerns, the effects, usage and meaning-making that technologies of mobility and communication technologies have among the Maasai in Ngorongoro. I engage with the disentangling of the patterns, representations and practices creating mobility. Cattle is often described as the fabric of Maasai society, infusing meaning and legitimacy to the traditional forms of movement shaping the land.
The usage of communication technologies is examined alongside questions concerning how mobility and intricate social networks have played a decisive role in ‘place-making’ and the shaping of one of the largest areas claimed by a single ethnic group in Africa. I ask: How is a culture of mobility created and (re-)produced through communication? How is a mobile identity forged in relation to the use of technologies of mobility? How does the meaning-making of place and mobility come about and how do imaginaries shape this meaning-making?
This project aims to bridge and to enhance the anthropological body of work on mobility studies, communication and technology. The dissertation analyses how technologies of communication and mobility have expanded or restructured the Maasai’s traditional social, cultural, economic and political networks. Fieldwork was conducted continuously online on Facebook from 2012 to late 2015, and in Ngorongoro from March 2013 to October 2013, a participatory-observational approach was taken and was strengthened by interviews and drawn from collections of secondary sources. This dissertation aims to provide readers with a thorough examination of one case study of the Maasai implementation of technologies of mobility and communication; in this work I have set a precedent for a broader understanding and engagement with the interstice between technology, communication and mobility within anthropology. I find that human mobility practices are moored in meaning and place. Practices such as herding cattle are corporeal demonstrations of mobility and as important in manifesting a culture of mobility as imaginaries of a more ‘nomadic’ past are. Mobilities are discursive constructs. Cultural mobilities are shaped by (imaginaries of) history and in relation to and reaction towards non-members of a cultural group. Larger cultural patterns and social organization shape the meaning-making of practices of mobility and technology. Technologies, rather than being disruptive to culture, build upon well-established and historically influenced practices.
Publication status: accepted
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre

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