New Media Practices in a changing Africa

The primary objective of the «New Media in a changing Africa» project (Mediafrica) is to investigate: to what extent and in what ways processes of change in sub-Saharan Africa are affected by new media. The research is practice-oriented and comparative. Media's social significance requires it to be linked to people's everyday concerns and practices, while change is seen as processual and shall be explained by way of social mechanisms.

About the project

The research project ‘New media practices in a changing Africa’ starts from two empirical facts; I) Africa has experienced a relatively consistent economic growth, suggesting that broader social transformations are unfolding; and that II) the continent is in the middle of a media revolution. It is more than likely that there is a causal relationship between the two but to this day there is very little knowledge as to how they are linked. The primary objective of the project is hence to investigate: to what extent and in what ways are processes of change in sub-Saharan Africa affected by new media? Secondary objectives are: to investigate how media practices are linked to people's everyday life; to study more specifically how media uses are linked to gender relations, as well as economic, political and cultural concerns; to study how mobility and flows are connected to, and affected by, new media; to use diachronic data to explain change as particular processes & to link such processes to wider social processes in order to develop mechanism-based explanations of social change.

Aim of the project

The main RQ’s of the research are: To what extent and in what ways are processes of social change in contemporary Africa affected by new media? In line with the non media-centric approach to studies of media practices (Morley 2009) the first specific Research Question is:

RQ 1: What concerns are media uses linked to?

The project follows an open explorative approach about what those concerns are, but based on previous fieldwork, we anticipate the following might be central. These are translated into the following RQs:

RQ 2: Economy: What effects do new media have on local economic life?

RQ 3: Politics: What new political divisions and alliances do media generate?

RQ 4: Sociality: How do media affect household, family and kinship relations?

RQ 5: Gender: How do media affect gender relations and practices?

RQ 6: Cultural concerns: What effects do new media have on health and religious practices?

RQ 7: Mobility: How do new media affect space/place and mobility?

RQ 8: In what ways can social changes be linked to media practices, what social mechanisms are in operation?

RQ 9: What patterns of differences and similarities do we find between the researched sites (over time, between socialities and rural/urban) and how can we generalise and theorise from them?

RQ 1 has a methodological slant, the next six are thematically oriented and the last two are analytical. Together these are well suited to shed light on long–term changes. By providing substantial answers to these questions the project intends to set a new research agenda and to open up a new field that will inspire new projects which will build on this master project.


The technological revolution does not by itself generate change; the effects of media practices depend on the social environment they are parts of: different social, political and economic environments will generate different social effects of media practices. In order to take the social embeddedness of media seriously, the project shall study media not as a phenomenon in its own right but as parts of people’s actual practices and concerns. This requires a thorough methodological triangulation; case methodology is central but shall be combined with quantitative data and with a historical perspective. Five field work sites, in four countries, that represent various types of social and political histories and cultures, are chosen; Botswana (rural and urban), South Africa, Zambia and DR Congo. Botswana is a stable and wealthy country, South Africa is turbulent but a motor of growth in sub-Saharan Africa while Zambia and DR Congo have, in different ways, gone through phases of recession and political breakdown. Together they represent fruitful cases for comparative analysis of the ICT revolution in sub-Saharan Africa. In order to secure thorough ethnographic insight with limited resources the project shall apply a ‘slanted’ comparative design: Botswana is chosen as the main case. Experience from an earlier field study will be used strategically for designing new field work in rural (Helle-Valle 1997) and urban sites (Storm-Mathisen 2015). Field work will include being there, taking part in activities, visiting households, institutions and events, video/photoassisted documentation of practice (i.e. pictures of events, ‘video tours’ (cf. Pink 2007), video stories, diaries, essay contest etc), digital ethnography and media analysis. Secondary material (statistics, reports previous studies etc) will also be used.  To provide novel synchronic and diachronic data a new survey shall be developed, based on a household survey conducted in 1990 (Helle-Valle 1997). The three other countries will be sites for similar, but less comprehensive studies of media practices. In this way we aim at a threefold comparative design; over time, between different socialities (political, economic and cultural conditions), and between the rural and the urban.


The project runs from June 1, 2015 – May 30, 2018 and is funded by the Research Council of Norway, FRIPRO.


The project is multidisciplinary and involves in all 10 researchers and 7 research institutions from 6 countries.

Tags: New media, Global South, Social change
Published Sep. 29, 2015 3:04 PM - Last modified Mar. 26, 2019 3:38 PM


  • Ardis Storm-Mathisen
  • Jean Comaroff
  • Fiona Ross
  • Monageng Mogalagwe
  • Katrien Pype
  • Wendy Willems
  • Jo Helle-Valle
Detailed list of participants