The impact of the mobile phone on adolescents and their social relationships. Contributing to an investigation of communicative actions in the process of socialisation with media
Peer groups are the frame of action and reference in which adolescents form and experience new types of relationships. These relationships are characterised by shared meanings about personal identities and interaction patterns as well as expectations and modes of action. Within these communication processes, media play an important role to express one’s individual identity with reference to friends, to exchange views and experiences and to form a communicative net of social relationships. As an indispensable, personal and multifunctional medium, the mobile phone holds an important position within these media arrangements. With regard to new forms of communication and interaction that are mirrored in the structures and dynamics of relationships, the PhD project aims at conceptualising adolescent relations as dynamic social networks of negotiated meanings that are intertwined in processes of mediated communication. The mobile phone is conceived as a personal medium and as an element of these communication processes. Considering developmental issues that are typical for young individuals, the project tries to shed light on questions that deal with the relational structures and meanings in which the mobile phone is used in (with an everyday life context), for which reasons and in which communication processes and social contexts. The negotiation of relationships by means of mobile communication is examined in line with communication processes carried out with other media technologies like internet chat, E-Mail or landline phone and in line with face-to-face communication. Referring to the mediatisation of society, the PhD project looks at the consequences that are materialised in changes of social networks and in the process of adolescent socialisation. Against the background of the socio-cultural tradition and referring to the findings of symbolic interactionism, the theoretical framework of the PhD project comprises theories that deal with questions of socialisation, development and communication referring to relationships. The foundation is based on an interactionist view of socialisation that conceives individuals as active producers of their relationships. Social networks are defined as a dynamic, flexible and relatively open set of relationships which individuals imbue with meanings and use for personal and collective actions. Communication through media as the basic process is examined from the perspective of the individual and as a type of symbolic interaction. Within this theoretical framework, the project aims to generate theoretical findings that are grounded in empirical data. Based on a qualitative, ethnographical multi-method design, the research project combines a longitudinal investigation of peer-groups, including in-depth interviews, observations and experiments.