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The Great Indian Phone Book

Visiting Research Professor Robin Jeffrey

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ISBN 10: 1849043132 / ISBN 13: 9781849043137
Published by C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd, 2013
Condition: Good Soft cover
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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Great Indian Phone Book

Publisher: C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd

Publication Date: 2013

Binding: Paperback

Book Condition:Good

Edition: UK ed..

About this title


The cheap mobile phone is arguably the most significant personal communications device in history. In India, where caste hierarchy has reinforced power for generations, the disruptive potential of the mobile phone is even more striking than elsewhere. In 2001, India had 35 million telephones, only four million of them mobiles. Ten years later, it had more than 800 million phone subscribers; more than 95 per cent were mobile phones. In a decade, communications in India have been transformed by a device that can be shared by fisherfolk in Kerala, boatmen in Banaras, great capitalists in Mumbai and power-wielding politicians and bureaucrats in New Delhi. Village councils banned unmarried girls from having mobile phones. Families debated whether new brides should surrender them. Cheap mobile phones became photo albums, music machines and radios. Religious images and uplifting messages flooded tens of millions of phones each day. Pornographers and criminals found a tantalising new tool. In politics, organisations with cadres of true believers exploited a resource infinitely more effective than telegrams, postcards and the printing press for carrying messages to workers, followers and voters. Jeffrey and Doron focus on three groups - controllers: the bureaucrats, politicians and capitalists who wrestle over control of radio frequency spectrum; servants: the marketers, agents, technicians, tower-builders, repairers and second-hand dealers who carry mobile phones to the masses; and users: the politicians, activists, businesses and households that adapt the mobile phone to their needs. The book probes the whole universe of the mobile phone - from the contests of great capitalists and governments to control radio frequency spectrum, to the ways ordinary people build the troublesome and addictive device into their daily lives.


'How did India go from being a country in which making phone calls was exquisite torture to the world s second-largest market for mobile phones in just ten years? And what did this rapid proliferation of communication do to Indian society? Assa Doron's and Robin Jeffrey s ambitious survey is a good place to find some answers. ... The Great Indian Phone Book is actually two books in one. The first half is a whirlwind recap of how India was connected, told simply and with a wealth of numbers. The second is an ethnographic study that dives into the intricacies of Indian society without pretending to be comprehensive. ... [T]he strength of the book lies in its repeated emphasis on technology as something that does not eliminate political and social structures, though it may modify them.' --The Economist

'In this fine anthropological study, Doron and Jeffrey look at how the introduction and current widespread use of the cell phone has altered life in one of the world s largest countries. In 1991, there were 165 people for every telephone in India, but today this ratio is 2:1 or less. The authors cover the technical aspects of this rapid expansion, as well as some of the corruption involved, including the arrest of a former minister of communications. More compelling, though, are the stories of individual citizens and the changes, not always for the better, wrought by mobile phone ownership. For example, the growth of the cell phone industry resulted in new jobs in sales, tower construction, manufacturing, and repair, both by corporate employees and street craftsmen. The 2007 elections in Uttar Pradesh were profoundly affected by motivated citizens using their mobiles. In traditional households, it isn't uncommon for new brides to have their phones confiscated by their in-laws for modesty's sake. Pornography, terrorism, and surveillance abuses are just some of the criminal acts abetted by cell phones. This rich study reveals much about modern India and should be read by both students and scholars of technology and South Asia.' --Publishers Weekly

'A riveting account of India's wholesale uptake of mass telecommunication... The Great Indian Phone Book is as packed with thrills as it is with anecdotes and information. This is that rarest of literary marriages, scholarship with a light touch.' --Asian Affairs

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