Becoming Obsolete: Time, Citizenship and Infrastructure in a Papua New Guinea Telecommunications Network

A young girl stands talking on a mobile phone. Photo taken by Irene Scott for AusAID.

Event details

SSGM Seminar Series

Date & time

Monday 10 October 2022


Coombs Extension Room 1.04 The Australian National University


Robert J. Foster



Please note - This is a hybrid event and will also be available on Zoom.

Speaker: Robert J. Foster, University of Rochester

This seminar addresses the “temporality of infrastructure” or “infrastructure as an open-ended process” (Gupta 2015, 2018) by examining changes in the spatiotemporal configuration of a telecommunications network in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It describes the arrival of Digicel Group Ltd., a privately owned foreign company, in response to the PNG government’s 2005 decision to allow competition in the market for mobile communications, and it charts the ensuing rapid uptake of mobile phones by users who previously had no access to telecommunications services. It demonstrates how between the years 2007 and 2017, obsolescence was produced through related shifts in network infrastructure: from 2G to 4G LTE technologies; from basic handsets to smartphones; and from the sale of prepaid scratch cards by airtime resellers to purchases of airtime online and at ATMs by mobile users. These shifts widened a digital divide between urban and rural areas that effectively deferred if not denied the promise of national coevalness regardless of where one resides (Anderson 1983, Fabian 1983). That is, not only infrastructural time but also “infrastructural citizenship” (Lemanski 2018) came to be imagined, represented and lived as a function of one’s location inside or outside of a network of uneven connections.

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