Worth the risk : the role of regulations and norms in shaping teens’ digital media practices




Vickery, Jacqueline Ryan

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This dissertation analyzes how discourses of risk shape teens’ digital media practices. The purpose is to understand the relationship between discourses of risk, policy regulations, informal learning, and teens’ everyday experiences. This research serves to combat discourses that construct technology as a threat and youth as ‘at-risk’ in two ways. One, it demonstrates the agentive ways teens manage risks and two, it provides empirical evidence of the ways technologies and literacies function as risk reduction strategies. From a Foucauldian perspective of governmentality, this study considers risk to be an always already historically, socially, and politically constructed phenomenon; as such, policies serve as risk intervention strategies. The first part of this dissertation traces how risk discourses are mobilized through moral panics and federal policies regulating young people’s use of the internet. Despite research to the contrary, policies reify anxieties associated with the threat of pornography and predators. As such, policies rely on constructions of young people as passive victims and technologies as risks; such regulations unintentionally limit learning opportunities. The second part analyzes how schools regulate subjects of risk and digital media, as well as how teens themselves manage risks. Ethnographic research was conducted in a large, ethnically diverse, low-income high school in Texas. As part of a team, the researcher spent eight months observing two after-school digital media clubs. The ethnography also consisted of 18 case studies with diverse high school students. Researchers conducted individual, semi-structured, qualitative interviews with the students on a regular basis for an entire academic school year. Findings suggest discourses of risk were mobilized through school district policies which regulated teens’ use of digital media. Specifically, regulations limited students’ opportunities to develop a) social, b) network, and c) critical digital media literacies. However, students generated agentive ways to resist regulations in order to maintain robust peer and learning ecologies. The clubs constructed technologies as interventions for ‘at-risk’ youth. Within informal learning spaces teens a) developed skills, b) acquired social capital, and c) negotiated empowered identities. Lastly, the study considers how teens acknowledged and negotiated risks associated with privacy. Teens demonstrated three strategies for managing consumer and social privacy: a) informational, b) audience management, and c) spatial strategies.



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