Exploring the Conceptual Constructions of the Mobile Phone Within the Neoliberal Digital Age: A Thematic Analysis
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AbstractThis thesis is an investigation into the ways in which mobile phone users’ contextualised understanding of the mobile phone may have shaped their mobile phone practices and subjectivity within the cultural narratives of the neoliberal digital age in the UK. The proliferation of research literature focused on mobile phone practices has been dominated by mainstream psychology’s pathologised rationales for differences between mobile phone users’ practices. However, the distinction between normal and problematic practices are not clearly defined across studies. This thesis adopts a critical perspective to consider the socially integrated relationship between meaning, subjectivity and behaviour in order to inform the current rationales for differences between mobile phone users’ practices from an underrepresented perspective on the topic. The thesis is collection of four discrete but interconnected studies which progress from exploring the culturally accessible conceptualisation of the mobile phone presented by the mass media to the culturally contextualised understanding of the mobile phone by mobile phone users. Mass media data were collected from UK national newspaper articles about the mobile phone published between 1985 (first consumer handheld mobile phones in the UK) and 2019, to provide a wide historical context, and website-based advertising of mobile phones accessible to the UK population during 2019. Data was collected from mobile phone users through participant-generated reviews of their mobile phone by 164 self-selected mobile phone users and in-depth interviews with 20 mobile phone users positioned as at-risk problem users by the psychology literature. The data collected was analysed using an inductive thematic analysis informed by social constructionism. The analysis of the news media revealed that the conceptualisation of the mobile phone shifted from a business tool accessible by a wealthy few to a normal need of modern living for the masses which is integral to the user’s identity. It was argued that current cultural conceptualisations of the mobile phone were shaped by societal powers related to neoliberalism and regulation. The conceptualisations related to the advertisements promoted a normal, essential, desirable and continually developing contemporary tool of self-improvement, empowerment, independence, control, social connection and identity development. Mobile phone users’ conceptualisations related to the deep meaning that essential lifestyle enhancing activities had for them and positioned themselves as attached to their lifestyle and identity development that was accessible through their mobile phone practices which they positioned as culturally normal and essential to a modern lifestyle. For the users positioned as at-risk problem users, the mobile phone was an emotionally complex object which was related to emotional support and emotional tensions, in conflict at times. The relationship between the mass media’s conceptualisations of the mobile phone and mobile phone users’ contextualised understanding showed that cultural narratives, fashioned by societal powers, shaped users’ understanding and practices. It was concluded that mobile phone users were attached to the continual development of their lifestyle, identity and knowing that they experience through their mobile phone practices rather than attached to the device. Mobile phone practices are a symptom of neoliberal digital culture rather than a problematic symptom of the user. Future research must sustain the critical perspective to build upon the findings of this thesis and explore the identities of those who actively resist using mobile phones with consideration to their contextualised personal interests in order to further inform the distinction between normal and problematic mobile phone practices.
CitationSmyth, M. (2020) Exploring the conceptual constructions of the mobile phone within the neoliberal digital age: A thematic analysis. PhD thesis. University of Derby.
PublisherUniversity of Derby
TypeThesis or dissertation
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