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Adoption of the mobile phone by women within the web of gender relations in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

No other technology has ever conquered the world as quickly as the mobile phone. To critically analyze this phenomenon Hans Peter Hahn’s theory of cultural appropriation promises a tool to not only do research on material culture but focus on the creative ability of local actors to adopt and embed global technologies into their respective cultural context.


In the rugged high mountain areas of Gilgit-Baltistan the mobile phone facilitates new possibilities of interaction and increases the radius of communication – in particular for women. Or might the phone rather serve as means of control? Members of the three Islamic sects, Shia, Sunni and Ismaili, live in different parts of the region and come together in the capital of Gilgit. Apart from strictly differentiated gender roles, purdah, the segregation of men and women, plays a major part in people’s lives. The relations between men and women are highly publically safe-guarded and female life worlds are mainly restricted to their household and mohalla (neighborhood of relatives). Although men and women seem to live in different worlds, men greatly constitute women’s space and their actions. Therefore the analysis of females’ mobile phone use also needs to integrate the male perspective. The main focus circles around the question how mobile telephony possibly changes established gender relations. Modelled after Judith Butler’s concept of doing gender, the ongoing negotiation process of gender roles and ideas is the most prompting issue. The mobile phone serves as methodological lens to discover these.

To meet the requirements of a very heterogeneous society – the various sects, regional diversity, such as rural - urban, as well as ethnically and linguistically diverse valleys – and understand the dynamics of dissimilar signal coverage, research in the field takes place in the urban setting of Gilgit, as well as in different rural villages. The first case study was conducted in the Bagrote valley in 2013.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Martin Sökefeld (research leader), Dr. des. Anna-Maria Walter (researcher)

Financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SO 435/7-1), 2013-16


Walter, Anna-Maria (2019): Embodying ineffable concepts. Empathic intimacy as tool for insight. In: Thomas Stodulka, Samia Dinkelaker und Ferdiansyah Thajib (eds.): Affective dimensions of fieldwork and etnography. Cham: Springer. 143-156.

Walter, Anna-Maria (2018). Die Verteufelung des Handys. Oder wie Liebesbeziehungen in der Region Gilgits, Nordpakistan, neu verhandelt werden. In: Hahn, Hans Peter; Friedemann Neumann (Hg.): Dinge als Herausforderung. Kontexte, Umgangsweisen und Umwertungen von Objekten. Bielefeld, transcript: 101-118. (open access)

Walter, Anna-Maria (2014). Changing Gilgit-Baltistan: Perceptions of the recent history and the role of community activism. Ethnoscripts 16, Nr. 1. Download

Walter, Anna-Maria (2015). Liebe geht durch den Daumen. Forschung - Magazin der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft 03/15: 4-9. More information.

Interview with Anna-Maria Walter, radio "Südwestrundfunk" (SWR2): Digitale Romanzen - Handynutzung in Pakistan
(22. 10. 2015, in German)