UCL Urban Laboratory


Sarah Marie Hall - Urban Laboratory Lecture Series

27 November 2018, 6:30 pm–8:00 pm

Urban Laboratory Lecture Series - Sarah Marie Hall

Event Information

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Room G03, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP

"It died once at playgroup, I didn't know what to do": towards vital, vibrant and material geographies of the mobile phone in austerity

This paper makes the case for revitalising and rematerialising geographical understanding of the mobile phone, as a result of their renewed and irreplaceable importance in times of austerity.

Geographers have long considered mobile phones to be instruments and agents of globalisation, migration and commodification, to name but a few, as well as a technology for fieldwork. However, this common placing of the mobile phone as little more than piece of physical infrastructure, a commodity, or a status symbol, results in it being largely depoliticised.

Drawing on two years of ethnographic research with families and communities in Greater Manchester, in the context of nearly a decade of recession and austerity in the UK, this paper makes the case for the repositioning and repoliticisation of the mobile phone in austere times. It draws on concepts of vital materialism and vibrant matter, and feminist politics of care, bringing these literatures to speak to one another. It illustrates the place, value and politics of the mobile phone as a necessary utility, part of the fabric of everyday social and physical urban infrastructures in contemporary austerity. Using a vignette approach to presenting the findings, we will explore the political capacities and strategies of the mobile phone to both liberate the user and obfuscate draconian austerity polities, at the same time as being an unremarkable, mundane, functional object and service provider. The conclusions reflect on where such everyday materials fit within ideas of social inequalities, urban living, and the neoliberal state.

  • Dr Sarah Marie Hall is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Manchester, UK. Her research sits in the broad field of feminist political economy: understanding how socio-economic processes are shaped by gender relations, lived experience and social difference. Her recent research focuses on everyday family life and economic change, which culminated in the 'Everyday Austerity' exhibition and 'zine.
  • This lecture is chaired by Dr Yasminah Beebeejaun (Bartlett School of Planning / UCL Urban Laboratory)


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Urban Laboratory Lecture Series

The talk is part of our new autumn fortnightly lecture series, investigating the meaning and renewed relevance of the term 'urban laboratory'. The lectures are free and no booking is required. Step free access to the room at 26 Bedford Way.