ECIS 2020 Research Papers

Abstract

In this paper we examine how highly vulnerable migrants who exist at the margins of society use mobile phones to achieve a sense of belongingness and control in their precarious life situations. Drawing on the belongingness hypothesis from Baumeister and Leary (1995), we analyse ethnographic data collected during long-term fieldwork (2018-2019) among African migrants in South Italy. We show how, in the precarious spaces inhabited by recently-settled migrants, mobile phones ease the pain of loneliness and isolation and act as an enabler of belongingness by (1) becoming a place of refuge, and enabling feelings of comfort through (2) the creation of new social relations, and (3) bridging the old and the new world lived by subjects in new settings. Furthermore, our analysis shows that the need for loved ones and friends intertwines with the creation of mobile phone dependency among migrants, who in consequence risk becoming even more vulnerable during a critical juncture of their lives. The paper contributes to the emerging literature on ICTs and the social inclusion of migrants and refugees, exploring an urgent aspect of mobile phone usage among vulnerable migrants and illuminating new forms of sociotechnically induced dependency.

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