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Mobile Secrets

Youth, Intimacy, and the Politics of Pretense in Mozambique

Mobile Secrets

Youth, Intimacy, and the Politics of Pretense in Mozambique

Now part and parcel of everyday life almost everywhere, mobile phones have radically transformed how we acquire and exchange information. Many anticipated that in Africa, where most have gone from no phone to mobile phone, improved access to telecommunication would enhance everything from entrepreneurialism to democratization to service delivery, ushering in socio-economic development.
With Mobile Secrets, Julie Soleil Archambault offers a complete rethinking of how we understand uncertainty, truth, and ignorance by revealing how better access to information may in fact be anything but desirable. By engaging with young adults in a Mozambique suburb, Archambault shows how, in their efforts to create fulfilling lives, young men and women rely on mobile communication not only to mitigate everyday uncertainty but also to juggle the demands of intimacy by courting, producing, and sustaining uncertainty. In their hands, the phone has become a necessary tool in a wider arsenal of pretense—a means of creating the open-endedness on which harmonious social relations depend in postwar postsocialist Mozambique. As Mobile Secrets shows, Mozambicans have harnessed the technology not only to acquire information but also to subvert regimes of truth and preserve public secrets, allowing everyone to feign ignorance about the workings of the postwar intimate economy.

224 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology


"Draws on fieldwork in the Inhambane suburb of Liberdade in a study of how young Mozambicans use mobile phones to negotiate the demands of intimacy."


"A fascinating read. The analysis has impressive depth, rigor, and complexity, as Archambault writes with command of key texts in the anthropological discipline, and seemingly effortlessly communicates utmost intimate insights into the interactions between men and women in Inhambane."

African Studies Review

"Mobile Secrets is an ethnographically vivid and distinctive contribution to the ever growing anthropological literature on the topic of youth in Africa. . . . Archambault’s book represents an achievement for a contemporary anthropology attuned to the detail of our interlocutors’ lives."

Allegra Lab

"Mobile Secrets, about the uptake of cell phones in Inhambane, a secondary town in Mozambique, resolutely moves beyond the well-known ‘Africa rising’ mantra, the praise for cell phone technology as a tool to enhance ‘development’, or the celebration of the liberating capacity of mobile technology so common in the post-Arab Spring literature. This book transcends such narratives to offer a much more delicate ethnography of the complex ways in which young Mozambican men and women use cell phones to ‘cruise’ through uncertain times and give renewed form to deeply rooted regimes of truth, being and relating – what Archambault terms ‘arsenals of pretense’, revealing in the process what intimacy, respect, discretion and affection mean in postsocialist postwar Mozambique. Within the burgeoning field of ethnographically informed studies on cell phone use in Africa and beyond, Archambault’s rich account stands out for conveying how, in Mozambique today, cell phone use not only reshapes young people’s frustrations and expectations, but also transforms broader motions and emotions of relatedness and living together in new and unexpected ways. A beautiful and truly moving book!”

Filip De Boeck, author of Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City

“Unsettling claims that the cell phone is the best tool against poverty, Mobile Secrets probes with great sensitivity into the ambivalent potential of mobile communication in Mozambique. Archambault deploys considerable analytical skill and imagination to unravel how cell phones simplify yet also mystify social relations among young people. The result is a highly original study of the role cell phones play in the local politics of display and disguise. By focusing on the new forms of personhood, privacy, and relationality fostered by mobile communication, Mobile Secrets also provides much needed insight into the intimate lives of Mozambican youth.”

Adeline Masquelier, Tulane University

“Cellphones are devices that are globally available, but this rich and original study shows the profound role they play in the intimate politics of Mozambican youth. Archambault demonstrates how the small act of ‘biping’ can signal love or secrecy, uphold or challenge masculinities, and provide an avenue to aspirations for social and geographical mobility. Mobile Secrets will offer an unparalleled contribution to the literature on youth and intimacy in Africa—nearly all recent African ethnographies of youth touch on cell phones, but none give them the closely researched central focus that Archambault provides here.”

Mark Hunter, University of Toronto

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction: Living, Not Merely Surviving
1          The Communication Landscape
2          Display and Disguise
3          Crime and Carelessness
4          Love and Deceit
5          Sex and Money
6          Truth and Willful Blindness
Conclusion: Mobile Phones and the Demands of Intimacy

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