"I am not a number, I'm a free man": Suburban adolescents, multiliteracies, and tactics of resistance

Donna Mahar, Syracuse University

Abstract

The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore young adolescents' use of ICT (information communication technology) and popular media texts to make sense of themselves and their world. The rationale for the study stemmed from the lack of research considering (a) the overlaps and schisms between adolescents' use of ICT and popular media texts in their everyday practices (home, community, peer group) and school-directed assignments and (b) how adolescents' redesign of ICT and popular media texts affects established social institutions.

Grounded in symbolic interaction, the New London Group's (1996) conception of multiliteracies (cf., Cope & Kalantzis, 2000) and an activity theory-influenced framework (Beach, 2000; Cole, 1996; Engestrom & Miettinen, 1999) were used to guide the study. Collected over a 24-month period, data included field notes from: in-school classroom observations, focus group discussions, observations of non-curricular ICT use in the school setting, face-to-face interviews, and home visits. Data collection also included online documents and artifacts such as websites, listserv contributions, and e-mail messages.

Data were analyzed inductively and recursively, with the multiliteracies and activity theory frameworks serving as lenses in the later stages of the process. The ICT and popular media practices of six focal informants, three males and three females, are highlighted here. At the time of the study, these informants were seventh- and-eighth grade students at a suburban middle school.

Several themes emerged from data analysis: (a) these young adolescents made strategic decisions regarding when, where, and with whom they would employ their ICT designing, (b) these adolescents were adept at using tactics of resistance (de Certeau, 1984) in order to employ their ICT and popular media interests in locations of their choice, and (c) these adolescents illustrated the recursive and reflective nature of both the mentor process as well as the multiliteracies framework. Implications for classroom teachers and researchers based on these findings are discussed.