Journeys and politics in and around digital media: an ethnographic study of how teenagers with physical disabilities use the internet
thesisposted on 30.10.2017, 09:30 by Herminder Kaur
This thesis is based on a two-year ethnography, conducted in a special school, on how young people with physical disabilities use the internet. The thesis focuses on four key areas identified during the research. Firstly, the thesis highlights the embodied rhythms or pace and journeys or wayfaring that characterise how young people move in and between digital media and that are not captured by studies focusing on typologies of internet use. Secondly, the thesis discusses how young people with physical disabilities struggle to overcome stigma and exclusion in their online relationships, as rather than facilitate disembodied communication(s), digital media is increasingly saturated with normative visuality. Thirdly, the thesis discusses how young people with physical disabilities use of digital media is regulated by their teachers and parents, often limiting their use of this medium. Finally, the thesis explores how the young people enact disability in different contexts including the special school, mainstream colleges and the home, and what this tells us about these institutional contexts. In addition to participant observation the fieldwork also involved in-depth interviews with a small cohort of young people with physical disabilities and video diaries produced by participants that showcased how they use the internet in the home. Interviews were also carried out with some school staff from the special school as well as parents of participants. Home visits enabled observation of how participants use the internet in domestic settings, and some participants were followed to their mainstream colleges as they progressed into further education, or attended placements during the two-year period. A concern addressed in the thesis is how inequalities are reproduced and embedded in young people with physical disabilities habitual use of the internet. At the same time, the study found that these young people used the internet much in the same way as their able-bodied peers, for example, to play games, socialise and post images to garner approval. Video diaries revealed significant differences in the rhythms and journeys underpinning the way in which the young people used digital media, articulating contextual and habitual factors and the level of their disability. Furthermore, these young people used the internet to find, build and maintain social relationships online, to explore their sexuality and to engage in self-promotion on social networking sites. However, when online they also encountered various obstacles and struggled to overcome bodily stigma and exclusion within the visual and narrowly normative presentation of the self-online. School teachers and parents were found to adhere to regulatory policies and advice on how to mediate young people s access and use to digital media. This study found the regulatory practices (monitoring, blocking, filtering content) restricted how young people with physical disabilities could access and use digital media in the home and at school. For some participants their gender and ethnicity was found to intersect with their disability making them subject to substantial regulatory practices in the home. Moreover, the students who were more able-bodied found ways to evade the regulatory practices encountered in the school and at home. Finally, the study also found that the special school created a protective environment that fosters an inclusive space, where students with different abilities can prosper. In contrast however, their transition to mainstream colleges reveal that when they are expected to practice and adjust their disability to the normative practices in place for able-bodied students, they become hindered in their ability to feel included and perform academically.
Loughborough University (Doctoral Studentship).
- Social Sciences
- Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies