Converging Perspectives in Audience Studies and Digital Literacies: Youthful Interpretations of an Online Genre
In this thesis, I merge selected concerns in two fields that occupy distinctly different moments of mediation. Theoretically, I position myself within the field of audience reception studies as it makes a move from mass media to interactive media. I ask whether modes of engagement with digital interactive media can be understood through insights from research on engagement with mass media, thereby carrying the audience research agenda into the age of the Internet. I attempt to answer this question by operationalising key concepts from audience research (genre, text, interpretation) into a project with new media users (children using social networking sites) to explore whether these concepts can resolve an important question on the new media literacies agenda. Here, I ask whether children’s online literacies diverge across age in contrast to the widespread notion of a uniform and homogenous “youthful expertise” with the Internet. Through importing a conceptual repertoire, from one moment of mediation to another, my agenda is to converge perspectives in the field of audience studies and new media literacies, where I treat both audiences and literacies as concepts that involve “interpretation” of the media as texts. With regard to conceptual and methodological priorities, the project is based on three core conceptual priorities that shape its design, theoretical framework and findings. First, I maintain that textual analysis of the media alone cannot account for the diversity of ways in which sense is made of the media. Hence, in conducting research with the “users”(interpreters) of an online genre, I attempt to take the ambitious claims about literacies in new media environments out into the real, lived practices of engaging with a genre. In this process, theory-led qualitative interviews with 60 children between the ages of 11 and 18 years have recently been completed. Second, despite the weaknesses of a textual analysis alone, it is only in paying close attention to the media itself that one begins to understand its generic structure, which invites certain uses while restraining others. Hence, the project involves a comparative genre analysis of five social networking sites across languages and age groups. Finally, there is a focus on comparing both the text/reader and technology/user. I use data from interviews and genre analysis to compare the divergence in children’s digital literacies across age, and divergence in the form of a genre across selected instances. With regard to the theoretical approach, the theoretical framework brings together a theory of the text from: 1) genre studies and Umberto Eco’s work on openness and closure; 2) a theory of interpretation (deriving from Germanic reception aesthetics and North American reader response); and 3) a theory of divergence (deriving from intersubjectivist theories of cognition that recognize divergence in literacies as a socially located process). The project’s findings are expected to be in three directions. First, there will be findings on the divergence of an online genre across linguistic variations, and second, findings on the divergence of children’s digital literacies across age and finally, findings on four modes of literacies as practices of interpretation. With the first area, I expect to pay close attention to the question of the media as text, with the second, I expect to tackle the question of divergence in youthful uses of new media and with the last, I aim to explore media literacies as interpretation that follows four cross-cutting and overlapping modes.