Accepted paper:

You got a hole in your belly and a phone in your hand: searching for a job while too poor to pay your mobile phone bill

Authors:

Ilana Gershon (Indiana University)
Amy Gonzales

Paper short abstract:

Go to any free workshop on job hunting, and most advice assumes constant access to the internet. What do job seekers do when their access is not reliable? When you are poor, how do you look for a job when all employers presuppose that people have easy access to middle-class infrastructures?

Paper long abstract:

Mobile phones are technologies that signal people's class positions, often in unexpected ways in contexts where a government provides free phones with limited service. How mobile phones become an ethnographic starting point to study how class functions as a relational category of analysis is especially apparent when studying job searching techniques. If you stop almost anyone in the US and ask: "how do you look for a job?" many will recommend searching online. Go to any free workshop on job hunting, and most advice will tacitly assume constant access to the internet. To be employed, one must have reliable access to a range of digital technologies. What do job seekers do when their access is not reliable? When you live on the poverty line, how do you look for a job when all employers seem to presuppose that people have easy access to middle-class infrastructures? The job-seekers we interviewed had unreliable access to mobile phones and the internet, they were dependably digitally unstable. What happens when job-seekers are operating in a media ecology in which cell phone minutes are always available, but other factors (such as theft, homelessness, and broken equipment) continue to prevent stable connections to digital tools that might lead to employment? What does the mobile phone's vulnerabilities reveal about how the "unemployed" is socially constructed?

panel P133
The new anthropology of class: relations of place, experience and (dis)possessions