Discursive Practices and Creation of Identity Using the Mobile Phone

Discursive Practices and Creation of Identity Using the Mobile Phone

Clare Lloyd (The University of Newcastle, Australia) and Patricia Gillard (The University of Newcastle, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch001
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This chapter investigates the use of mobile phones in Australia by 18 to 35 year olds in the Hunter region; more particularly how the social construction of mobile phone use is revealed in discourse and related to identity formation. Interviews, collected cultural artifacts and a Research Journal provided the primary material, and the method of Discourse Analysis was used to consider each source of information and to compare them. Choices of phone, wallpaper and ringtone are consciously used to express aspects of individual identity, adapting functions of the mobile phone and engaging with broader discourses such as fashion and sound. Many of these discursive practices with the mobile phone are adopted for pleasure as well as utility.
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Purpose And Methods

The purpose of the larger project this chapter draws from was to analyze emerging discourses of new communication practices using mobile phones. This would answer the question of how existing discourses were negotiated and new ones created as people 18 to 35 in Australia’s Hunter region used mobile phones. Knowledge of both intrapersonal and interpersonal uses was needed, to explore this purpose fully. The research design adopted three different methods to reveal the complexities of emerging discourses and afford multiple comparisons and opportunities for validation of evidence. The methods were used concurrently: the collection of cultural artifacts referencing mobile phones (advertisements, newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, Podcasts, official statistics, laws, online forums etc.), a Research Journal kept for two years and four months, and semi-structured interviews with 18 adults.

This chapter draws mainly on Discourse Analysis of the 18 interviews. Within the methodological writing about Discourse Analysis, interviews are not always classified as ‘good’ or ‘naturally occurring data but, rather, as researcher-instigated discourse’ (Philips & Hardy, 2002, p. 72). However interviews are considered a practical and valuable tool for Discourse Analysis if the study is about the individual (and their phone uses, in this case). This is because ‘the way in which individuals construct themselves in an interview with a researcher may be similar to how they construct themselves in other arenas of talk’ (Philips & Hardy, 2002, p. 72). In the interviews for this study there was a special interest in how discourses of the self and the mobile phone were related, and in physical and social actions using the mobile phone. Interviews were analyzed for this constructed talk as well as the description of social interaction. Interviews lasted from 78 to 108 minutes and were sound recorded using a digital mini-disk and then later transcribed. Participants were asked questions about their uses of the mobile phone, its features, their personalization of it and their communication with others. Participants were selected using convenience or purposive sampling to gain a diverse group of 18 to 35 year old people living in the Hunter Region (an area 2 hours drive north and north west of Sydney that includes coastal and regional, inland towns). As can be seen from the table below, a wide variety of people in the chosen age group were recruited, with a balance with regard to men (10) and women (8), a range of occupations including tertiary students, professionals, skilled workers, full time carers and those without work. Some had few resources; others were wealthy. One third were well educated for their age group.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Wallpaper: the picture chosen to be the image visible on the front display of a mobile phone.

Mobile Phone: a small technological object designed for making and receiving calls and text messages. It is worn or carried by individuals and operates without a physical connection to the network.

Discourse: Discourse is a theory and set of methods that unpack the dynamic processes of the social construction of meaning.

Text: an element of a discourse. This can include talk, written texts, nonverbal interactions, films, television programs, and other media, symbols, and artifacts.

Ringtone: the sound chosen to be used as the audible alert a mobile phone makes when another person is calling.

Communication: Social meaning-making conducted in interaction, though not necessarily in real time. Communication may be in person or through varieties of media, including print, sound, and online.

Research Journal: A systematic record, usually written, that is kept by a researcher for the purpose of observing and reflecting on phenomena relevant to a particular research study. This method is used most to document spontaneously occurring events or those connected with the day to day experience of the researcher.

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