Volume 1(1), 2005-04, 45—57

Towards a sociology of the mobile phone

Jim McGuigan
Department of Social Sciences
Loughborough University UK

Use of the mobile phone is an immensely significant social and cultural phenomenon. However, market hype and utopian dreams greatly exaggerate its importance. The fundamental issue for sociology is the process of change. Bound up with contemporary issues of change, the mobile phone is a prime object for sociological attention both at the macro and micro levels of analysis. This article considers the strengths and weaknesses of four methods for studying the sociality of the mobile phone (social demography; political economy; conversation, discourse and text analysis; and ethnography), the different kinds of knowledge they produce, and the interests they represent. Recent ethnographic research on the mobile phone, particularly motivated by issues around the uncertain transition from 2G to the 3G technology, has examined the actual experience of routine use. Interpretative research is now supplementing purely instrumental research, thereby giving a much more nuanced understanding of mobile communications. Critical research on the mobile phone, of which there is little, is beginning to ask skeptical questions that should be pursued further.

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