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Life stories, social action and the Third Space: a biographical narrative interpretive study of adult users of a community IT centre

Roberts, George Brooke (2011) Life stories, social action and the Third Space: a biographical narrative interpretive study of adult users of a community IT centre University of Southampton, School of Education, Doctoral Thesis , 302pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)


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.

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Published date: January 2011
Organisations: University of Southampton


Local EPrints ID: 174235
PURE UUID: 8f40e4f5-2b20-47f2-aafa-3b6e214a876b

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Date deposited: 14 Feb 2011 16:24
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 12:11

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Author: George Brooke Roberts
Thesis advisor: Grainne Conole
Thesis advisor: Jane Seale

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