Share on Facebook Tweet on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share by email
Literacy and ICT: Social Constructions in the Lives of Low-literate Youth in Ethiopia & Malawi

Marije Geldof


This thesis explores how literacy and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are socially constructed in the lives of low-literate youth in the context of Ethiopia and Malawi. Literacy and ICTs are becoming more and more interdependent and both are seen as possible solutions for development. However, few studies have qualitatively explored the interaction between the two in contexts where literacy skills are not widespread, such as in Africa. Particularly the perspectives and experiences of low-literate users in such contexts have previously received insufficient attention. The thesis brings together and contributes to the social constructionist perspectives on literacy and ICTs, building in particular on the work of Brian Street and Daniel Wagner as well as Wiebe Bijker, Trevor Pinch and Paul Dourish, according to which literacy and ICT use are social practices that can only be understood in the social context in which they take place.

In the context of four research locations in both urban and rural Ethiopia and Malawi, a qualitative multiple method approach (including interviews, focus groups and digital camera interaction) was employed, which allowed low-literate youth to express themselves both verbally and visually about the role of ICTs in their lives. What their realities reveal about how the use of ICTs is actively shaped by both its users as well as the context of use is organised in three substantive chapters. The first examines the interplay between literacy and ICTs, particularly with respect to language, content representation and shared use. This is followed by an exploration of physical and cultural contextual factors that constrain ICT use, such as electricity and gender. Finally, the needs of low-literate users as well as the way in which they shape ICT use according to their needs are explored.

The thesis shows how the interplay between literacy and ICT use is more complex than just compatibility between literacy proficiency and ICT design. It highlights how ICT use is divided along similar lines to literacy proficiency by characteristics such as gender, language and geographical location. Furthermore, it shows how in an African context ICT design for collective rather than individual use may be more appropriate.


Publication typePhdThesis
OrganizationRoyal Holloway, University of London
> Publications > Literacy and ICT: Social Constructions in the Lives of Low-literate Youth in Ethiopia & Malawi