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Title: What do you do with your community IT centre? : life stories, social action and the Third Space : a biographical narrative interpretive study of adult users of a community IT centre
Author: Roberts, George Brooke
ISNI:       0000 0004 2703 3734
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2011
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The Community IT centre (CITC) is a place where people engage in informal and formal activities leading to positive change in their lives. I undertook a multimodal, qualitative, participant-voice study based on the biographical narrative interpretive method (BNIM) at a CITC on a large housing estate in southern England, with 24 participants; 11 people provided extended life stories. The study addresses the conspicuous silence of learners’ voices in the literature about community education and gives space to the voices of users of the CITC. In the UK and elsewhere, the dominant route to social inclusion is presumed to be employment, for which IT skills are needed. The analysis, using a Third Space conceptual framework informed by Activity Theory, challenges this assumption. The study makes specific and important contributions to knowledge about what people do with a CITC and makes policy recommendations in line with the findings (Ch 9, section 9.5). The thesis shows that the CITC is a social learning space, which supplies critically more IT access to those who don’t have “enough” and basic facilities to those who don’t have IT at all. Positive change is manifested in an emergent, instrumental and interpersonal value system, discovered by this research, consisting of compassion, determination, professionalism, resourcefulness, respect and solidarity. CITCs are shown to provide invaluable spaces within which identity projects may be pursued and the formation of selfeffective identities and communities supported. Through association with the CITC people can be enabled to be more effective managers (and self-managers) of the institutions of society. Engagement with the CITC also appears to be associated with critical reflexivity concerning social presence and participation. People are discovered to have a broad range of motivations for using the centre and to do many things with computers. Affective factors are shown to be significant in determining people’s use of IT. Although they do engender strong feelings, people’s relationship with computers is not fetishised nor do they form a particularly important aspect of identity. Despite assertions in policy about the importance of computers this thesis shows that IT is not the magnet that draws people into uncomfortable spaces; comfortable spaces draw people into IT use, and comfort is a factor of community. A common-sense of the self as the subject of a personal activity system – the institution of the individual – is a useful unit of analysis however this is a complex notion. So too is the notion of community. People express forms of shared experience and interest, and negotiate concerns about identity on multiple scales (Panelli & Welch 2005). I take community as a consistent “intersubjective network” (Žižek 2008, p.12), which, as for Bhabha, “... enables a division between the private and the public, the civil and the familial.” But, which also, “... enacts the impossibility of drawing an objective line between the two” (2004, p. 330). The stories of the participants reveal extensive hybridisation in respect of many factors including: nationality, occupation, domesticity, social class, locale/neighbourhood, and expectations of outcomes in life. Occupational identity: I am what I do – broadly conceived – is an important feature of participants' stories and there is wide community support for creative aspects of employment and for the transformative potential for individuals and communities of working together, whether or not money is involved. Wider social institutions (family, education, work) are discovered to be highly productive in shaping people’s engagement with the CITC. Domestic circumstances and parenthood contribute significantly to people’s use of the centre. In particular, lone parenthood has a profound impact on people but can be a positive choice leading to a fulfilled sense of self and strong bond with the child, which can be facilitated by the CITC. Importantly, some people do not want the Internet in their homes. They resent its intrusion for strongly held reasons which need not be subject of argument or coercion. The thesis shows that participants in this study have a rich conceptualisation of learning, education, IT, qualifications and work, and clear understandings of the differences between formal and informal learning as well as an understanding of the multiply inscribed role of qualifications in social inclusion. The thesis provides specific local evidence for the OfCom (2010) findings about people’s preference for informal learning about ICT. The thesis recommends that communities take it upon themselves, with encouragement and support, to provide community IT centres.
Supervisor: Conole, Grainne ; Seale, Jane Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: HT Communities. Classes. Races ; QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science