On the 21st of February, our colleague Antti Paakkari gave the defence for his doctoral thesis at the University of Helsinki! The title for his thesis is ”Entangled Devices. An ethnographic study of students, mobile phones and capitalism”. You find the abstract below and you can access the digital version here. The ethnographic data Antti based his thesis on is from the Textmöten research project .
Not for the first time I was amazed by the opportunities for multiple research foci that this set of data offers. The fieldwork included quite technical solutions and was time consuming, but the data it generated made it worth all the effort. As the opponent, associate professor Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki), pointed out, the data offers a unique insight into students mobile phone use. I was eagerly awaiting critical questions in regard to the methodology as I am mentally preparing for the day I will give my defence. The opponent was however mainly impressed by the work we had done and suggested that we publish more methodological papers. Antti himself did however point out, that in the future, he would prefer to engage the students even further in the research design.
Doctoral student, Textmöten
This ethnographic research looks at the ways in which mobile phones are present in the school life of upper-secondary school students. The research analyses the affects phones have on the spatiality and power relation of school. The research has been undertaken as part of Textmöten research project and draws from ethnographic data produced in two Finnish upper-secondary schools during 2015-2016. The research consists of three peer-reviewed articles and a 94-page summary. The three articles of the dissertation examine the connections of school and mobile phones from different perspectives. The first article analyses the historically ambivalent relationship between school and technology, including the fact that technology in school seldom works in anticipated ways. The difference between many earlier technologies and mobile phones is that this time students are the ones bringing them to school. The second article analyses how phones are present during lessons, how different apps are used and what phones mean to young people. The conclusion is that phones have become a familiar presence during lessons in the research schools. Both the amounts of phone use and the ways the phones are used vary among the students but phones were used significantly throughout the research. In interviews, students emphasized the importance of the phones. They signified independence, adulthood and a space of one’s own. On the other hand, students mentioned the occasionally laborious nature of phones which had to do with a constant stream of messages and notifications. The third article focuses on one particular lesson in order to examine the multi-faceted character of phones and the connections they enable. Phones foster new agencies and bring opportunities for re-evaluating school spaces and power relations. However, at the same time they offer commercial actors a way into the classroom and give them a foothold in school. The research engages Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of assemblage to analyse the social and political connections of technology. Mobile phones are approached as part of a wider context. The research takes advantage of the concepts of platform capitalism and digital labour. Contemporary mobile devices are used mainly through platforms owned by global corporations such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft or Apple. Platforms connect individual user activity onto a database controlled by the platform owner. As data is today a pivotal economic factor, enterprises seek to collect as much data as possible. Schools are some of the most interesting sites for data extraction for technology companies. This is why we are seeing so many actively seeking to enter school spaces in which the presence of commercial actors has so far been tightly controlled. The research asks: are large technology companies quietly gaining a foothold in school spaces through mobile phones without a political debate on the issue
Keywords: school, technology, phones, mobile devices, capitalism, as- semblage, platform capitalism, digitalisation