Marije Geldof (2010)
Literacy and ICT: Social Constructions in the Lives of Low-literate Youth in Ethiopia & Malawi.
Full text access: Open
This thesis explores how literacy and Information and Communication Technologies
(ICTs) are socially constructed in the lives of low-literate youth in the context of
Ethiopia and Malawi. Literacy and ICTs are becoming more and more
interdependent and both are seen as possible solutions for development. However,
few studies have qualitatively explored the interaction between the two in contexts
where literacy skills are not widespread, such as in Africa. Particularly the
perspectives and experiences of low-literate users in such contexts have previously
received insufficient attention. The thesis brings together and contributes to the
social constructionist perspectives on literacy and ICTs, building in particular on the
work of Brian Street and Daniel Wagner as well as Wiebe Bijker, Trevor Pinch and
Paul Dourish, according to which literacy and ICT use are social practices that can
only be understood in the social context in which they take place.
In the context of four research locations in both urban and rural Ethiopia and Malawi,
a qualitative multiple method approach (including interviews, focus groups and digital
camera interaction) was employed, which allowed low-literate youth to express
themselves both verbally and visually about the role of ICTs in their lives. What their
realities reveal about how the use of ICTs is actively shaped by both its users as well
as the context of use is organised in three substantive chapters. The first examines
the interplay between literacy and ICTs, particularly with respect to language, content
representation and shared use. This is followed by an exploration of physical and
cultural contextual factors that constrain ICT use, such as electricity and gender.
Finally, the needs of low-literate users as well as the way in which they shape ICT
use according to their needs are explored.
The thesis shows how the interplay between literacy and ICT use is more complex
than just compatibility between literacy proficiency and ICT design. It highlights how
ICT use is divided along similar lines to literacy proficiency by characteristics such as
gender, language and geographical location. Furthermore, it shows how in an
African context ICT design for collective rather than individual use may be more
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