The authors explore the entanglement of smartphone technology and power in this paper. This paper explores the following question: In what ways does the actualization of smartphone affordances result in empowering outcomes (i.e. increase or reduce oppression) in the daily lives of refugees? Leveraging both affordance and feminist theories, the authors develop a hybrid lens bringing attention to the contextualized relationship between social process goals and affordances for sociality, upon which the authors introduce the notion of “goal-affordance interrelations”. The authors then trace how the actualization of these interrelations increases or reduces oppression.
Using an abductive approach, the authors analyze 32 semi-structured interview transcriptions conducted with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
The analysis in this study reveals four categories of social process goals (meet financial needs, satisfy security needs, communicate and learn and maintain pre-existing social ties) that are intimate components of contextually meaningful affordances. When actualized, the goal–affordance interrelations fundamentally shape refugee experiences of power outcomes. The findings suggest forms of empowerment where powerlessness, marginalization, violence and exploitation are perceived to be reduced. Actualization outcomes are also found to increase perceived oppression. Additionally, the findings reveal that not all interrelations are actualized, such that the anticipation of an oppressive power outcome may limit the actualization of affordances for sociality.
This research raises considerations concerning technology and oppression, and that efforts to empower refugees through technology should critically question whether the lived experiences of oppression will be reduced. The findings of this study reveal various forms of less empowering (i.e. oppressive) outcomes for the refugees sampled, they also point to the potential politicization of the actualization of goal–affordance interrelations.
The authors are grateful to the senior editor Prof. G Harindranath and the reviewers for the time and generous feedback as well as the guidance and constructive comments that helped the authors sharpen the contribution of the paper. The work of Randa Salamoun reported here was in part supported by grants from the American University of Beirut Research Board.
Salamoun, R., Karam, C.M. and Abdallah, C. (2022), "A feminist-affordance lens: examining the power outcomes of the actualization of smartphone affordances", Information Technology & People, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITP-06-2020-0434
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