iSpace? Identity and Space - A Visual Ethnography with Young People and Mobile Phone Technologies.

  • Victoria Jotham

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


Mobile phone technologies are transforming how young people think, work, play and relate to each other. However, a central concern for the thesis is that education policy and practice far too often resembles an industrial model that is standardised, mechanistic and linear and that rarely reflects the informational, dynamic and creative lives of young people. In particular, the educational project fails to connect with the way young people use their mobile phone technologies to multi-task, connect, and create content at a precipitous rate. This thesis focuses on the ways in which mobile phone technology is now a significant influence in the way young people develop a sense of self, and a sense of identity and agency that permeates the way they engage with education. The specific research questions that follow from this are: how are young peoples' identities shaping the meaning and use of mobile phones within (im)material culture? How is the relationship between identity and the creation and use of social space being defined through mobile phone technology? And, taken together how might these processes of identity development influence the way the educational project develops in the future? This thesis addressed these aims by conducting a visual ethnographic study over three years, using participation observation in a sixth-form college in the UK that included video interviews with seven college students. The research has produced a conceptual framework that documents a number of key findings that include: (a) the mobile phone has an immediate symbolic value to young people providing signals about the user's identity, or presentation of the self; (b) the mobile phone also helps facilitate the performance of lived experiences and is actively part of assisting in various forms of agency. (c) The mobile phone enables a constant flow of (re)presentations of young people that reflects a fluidity of identity that characterises key aspects of contemporary social life. Finally, (d) the mobile phone also supports and enhances the maintenance of social space through the maintenance of social groups and also crucially, the feeling of being oneself. The main conclusion drawn from this research is that too often education systems overlook that fact that learning for young people is typically, and inevitably, personal and yet at the same time located in connected, information-driven environments that are predisposed to digital technologies. Therefore, this research argues for educational policy makers and practitioners to think creatively about how to develop education in ways that fundamentally support young people in their (re)construction of a personalised landscape for learning through their mobile phone technologies.
Date of Award3 Jan 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarlo Raffo (Supervisor) & Olwen Mcnamara (Supervisor)


  • video interviews
  • participant observation
  • reflexivity
  • visual ethnography
  • personalised learning
  • education
  • culture
  • identity
  • digital technology
  • mobile phone
  • space

Cite this