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Moving Cultures: Mobile Communications in Everyday Life

Author: André H. Caron, Letizia Caronia
Publisher: Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007
Review Published: November 2009

 REVIEW 1: Erin Jonasson
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Letizia Caronia and André H. Caron

We often underestimate all the work that goes into reviewing a book. For the reviewer must not simply express whether he or she liked the book but must attempt to grasp the profound nuances that the authors attempted to convey in their writing. As authors of Moving Cultures we were quite impressed by the accuracy and sensitivity of the reviewer in comprehending the intrinsic concepts and unifying thread of our book.

We decided to investigate the phenomenon of mobile communication in everyday by overcoming the "subject-object" duality which still seems to force many researchers to choose: either she or he adopts the agency-oriented perspective either he or she adopts a structure-oriented perspective. We tried to rethink and empirically analyse the relationship between humans and technologies in terms of reflexivity, which encompasses a mutual construction of meaning and reciprocal sense making. Something easier said then done.

Actually, there is a large number of theoretical approaches and empirical research that have emphasized the role of individuals in constructing culture, social organization, and their relation to the material features of everyday life contexts. Against any form of social and cultural determinism, ethno methodology has demonstrated that people create their social and cultural world through their everyday actions and interactions (Garfinkel, 1967). Everyday practices of ordinary people are the effective tools that make supposedly passive users behave as active subjects. Defying and subverting any determinism of both dominant culture and systems of production, social actors invent and create, moment by moment, the meaning and functions of things that circulate in their social space (De Certeau, 1984). Far from obeying to implicit logics inscribed in goods, consumers develop their own tactics and follow paths in often unforeseen and unpredictable ways. These approaches to social life and phenomena share a crucial theoretical assumption: the strength of human agency (Giddens, 1979; 1984) and subject intentionality in making the meaningful dimensions of the world people inhabit. On the other hand, we do benefit of a great amount of research that underlines how and to what extent the material features of everyday life contexts are more than an inert background for culture construction. Technologies are not neutral nor are they "pure" material objects waiting to be assigned meaning. Even though they do not determine people's lives, technologies delineate the conditions of possibility for new behaviours and ways of life. Their features and engineering anticipate paths of action and project new possible identities for the users.

These two mainstream traditions constitute a Scylla and Charibdys dilemma for research. Adopting and maintaining a perspective that lies somewhere between the subject's agency and the strength of technologies, has been our first commitment in this book. The second one has been to produce an ethnographic tale of adolescents' technologically mediated everyday life that would be a "thick description" of their lives and social practices. As Clifford Geertz reminded us some thirty years ago, a talking ethnography needs to find a way between the natives' world and its academic understanding, between the "experience near concepts" used by people to make sense of their own reality and the "experience distant concepts" we use to make sense of their making sense (Geertz, 1982). We tried -- and we hope we succeeded -- to combine the teenagers' local knowledge with our knowledge as social scientists and to produce an interpretation of the ways they live with mobile phones.

Doing research in this area and within this methodological approach is not an easy task and raises a number of theoretical but also methodological challenges. The five years of gathering field data for this book allowed us to explore innovative approaches on different fronts whether it be having teenagers determine their primordial issues on this topic, collecting themselves some of the data or having mobile conversations recorded in real time over a number of weeks.

By following teenagers' everyday life, by recording and analysing their mobile oral conversations and written SMS exchanges, we had access not only to their Life-worlds but also and moreover to the process by which culture, identities and communities are made everyday through language and social interaction. In a few words, this book tells of an extraordinary human experience. We felt much gratification when reading the reviewers comments and understanding of our book and a confirmation that all this work was worthwhile.

Letizia Caronia and André H. Caron

<andre.caron@umontreal.ca; letizia.caronia@unibo.it>

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