UCT CS Research Document Archive

Walking and the Social Life of Solar Charging in Rural Africa

Bidwell, Nicola, M Siya, G Marsden, W Tucker, M Tshemese, N Gaven, S Ntlangano, S Robinson and K Eglington (2013) Walking and the Social Life of Solar Charging in Rural Africa. ACM ToCHI 20(4):1-30.

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We illustrate links between walking, sociality and using resources in a case-study of community-based, solar, cellphone charging in two villages in Eastern Cape, South Africa. Like 360 million rural Sub-saharan Africans, inhabitants are poor and, like 25% and 92%, of the world respectively, do not have domestic electricity or own motor vehicles. We show that the ways we move through the world affect the meanings we embody; that certain representations obscure continuities in the practices we seek to understand and influence; and, some of the motivations of the billions of people who are marginalized in discussing sustainable HCI. Locally, about 65% of inhabitants over 14 years old own cell- phones and, over a year, we recorded 500 names of people using the Charging Stations that, we deployed within several technology probing endeavours, many on a regular basis. The detail of our longitudinal study contributes considerably to sustainable design for ‘developing’ regions. Walking is a noticeable part of charging, and all other subsistence rou- tines, and shapes inhabitants’ motivations when they use, re-purpose, store and share resources. Inhabitants are moti- vated by cost and comfort and, importantly, by performing collectivity in their tight-knit community; but, not by being green. Further, different ways of walking relate to social roles and other aspects of sociality and, we propose, shaped inhabitants’ and researchers’ perspectives on charging and using phones. We suggest this is significant for the methods and designs that we use to explore and support sustainable practices in rural Africa and, indeed, more generally.

EPrint Type:Journal (Paginated)
ID Code:892
Deposited By:Marsden, Gary
Deposited On:28 October 2013