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Pointing the Phone: Transforming Technologies and Social Relations among Warlpiri

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Abstract

Many central Australian Aboriginal settlements have recently gained access to mobile phones and the Internet. This paper explores ways in which Aboriginal people engage with this technology outside of institutional settings. Drawing on long-term research among Warlpiri, I reflect on people's responses to earlier communication media such as the two-way radio and radio–telephone and compare them to patterns of use emerging around new technologies. Attending to the social landscape surrounding the uptake of new media and the social networking site ‘Divas Chat’, I consider how transformations in material structures of communication interact with changing demographics, embodied socio-spatial relations, sorcery beliefs and mobility to reinforce, refigure and/or disrupt patterns of conflict and connectedness that hitherto have structured Warlpiri relational ontology. I suggest that the way people engage with these technologies illuminates and intensifies fault-lines arising from contradictions between older established social orders and changing relations with the state and modernity.

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