"Bridges to Cash": Channeling Agency in Mobile Money

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Contributed date

July 17, 2018 - 4:22pm

Critical Commentary


Encountered by mobile money professionals – industry and philanthropic actors seeking to bring
mobile phone-enabled financial products to poor people in the ‘developing world’ – the authors
move together with new collaborators to inquire into a problem they had been grappling with for
some time. This is the problem of agency; specifically, the agency of ‘mobile money agents’, the
people ‘on the ground’ or ‘in the field’ who form a crucial function in permitting others to put cash
into an electronic money transfer system and pull cash out of it. These ‘human ATMs’ or ‘bridges to
cash’ become the object of analytical scrutiny for mobile money experts and anthropologists. This
article takes that analytical scrutiny – and not mobile money agents themselves – as its object. It
seeks to understand how ‘agency’ inflects debates over money, its meaning and its pragmatics, and
its transformation in new communicative infrastructures, and how it might inform anthropology and
political struggles over money and payment.


Maurer, Bill, Taylor C. Nelms, and Stephen C. Rea. (2013). “‘Bridges to cash': channeling agency in mobile money.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19 (1): 52-74. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12003

Group Audience

Cite as

Bill Maurer, Taylor Nelms and Stephen Rea, ""Bridges to Cash": Channeling Agency in Mobile Money", contributed by James Adams, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 5 August 2018, accessed 23 September 2023. http://www.stsinfrastructures.org/content/bridges-cash-channeling-agency-mobile-money