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Regulation as Retrospective Ethnography


Often, we ask: how can regulation mitigate risk? What might happen if instead we ask: what does regulation tell us about socially situated action? This article poses a thought experiment along these lines. The emerging conversation about regulation and the risks of mobile financial services has been relatively silent on a ubiquitous set of things people do with cash and coin not limited to the strictly economic functions of these media. Adding mobile into the mix of people's existing; highly complex monetary practices has the potential to create new risks -- but also new opportunities for product design and smarter regulation. This paper describes the social uses of mobile phones and cash from different cultural contexts, including proscriptions regarding the disclosure of certain transactions, and multi-person sharing of money and mobiles. It then reflects on how we might understand regulation as an account of people's practices and experiences, an account we might set alongside other forms of data on use cases for mobile and money. It argues that the risks identified by the regulators, rather than hindering innovation or frightening off developers, might instead inspire user-oriented solutions for mobile money, and for mobile money as part of, not a replacement for, the user's world of diverse social currencies.

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