Caring for the “next billion” mobile handsets: opening proprietary closures through the work of repair

ICTD is profoundly interested in the “next billion” users, and how to leverage technology to improve their everyday lives. In this paper we ask how the concept of care might be generatively extended to the ‘lives’ of the “next billion” mobile handsets. Drawing on a growing literature on repair in ICTD and HCI, and theories of care from the social sciences, this paper makes two central contributions. First, our ethnographic study of mobile phone repair in downtown Kampala, Uganda provides new insights into how technologies are sustained in developing contexts, with a special focus on how independent technicians in informal repair shops circumvent the proprietary closures that limit their work. Second, we show how attending to care in ICTD contexts can help us locate immediate forms of technical work (here, repair) within wider moral and political orderings. Thinking about repair and care together opens up new possibilities for ICTD to engage with the materiality of technologies over longer temporal horizons, beyond privileged moments of design and adoption.