From Throwaway Objects to Premium Platforms: A Biography of Mobile Phones and their Marketisation in the UK (2000-2018)

  • Harald Wieser

Student thesis: Phd


The poor ability of many consumer durables to last has given rise to serious environmental concerns. How this ability can be improved at the scale of an entire market, however, remains a puzzle. In an exploratory effort to build a first evidence base, this thesis examines a little noticed transformation of a highly conspicuous good: how mobile phones, once considered "throwaway objects" with an average life expectancy of 12 months, morphed into "premium platforms" used for about twice as long. The case challenges long-standing perspectives according to which the ability of consumer durables to withstand obsolescence either inevitably declines over time or follows an uncontrollable, cyclical development. To make sense of the aforementioned development, I draw on scholarship of market innovation, performativity, and valuation. The analysis of the case offers, first, much-needed insights on the concrete market settings that can bring about deteriorating or improving levels of product endurance. Building on analogies with the issues of disability and addiction, I discuss the roles that three types of market devices played in shaping the dynamics of mobile phone endurance throughout the years: prosthetic devices, habilitation devices, and addiction devices. Secondly, the analysis directs attention to the significance of struggles over the valuation of goods for the dynamics of product endurance. Such struggles can be located at the heart of the troublesome emergence of the premium platform market as well as its uncertain future. The findings from this case are discussed in relation to wider debates on the implications of the politics of value for the temporal dynamics of market innovation. I conclude that for studies of product endurance there is much to be gained from the analysis of historical market dynamics.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew Mcmeekin (Supervisor) & Dale Southerton (Supervisor)


  • Product obsolescence
  • Marketisation
  • Valuation
  • Biography
  • Mobile Phones
  • Market innovation

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