Learnings from an East London-night walk

When venturing into new-to-me-places for ethnographic research, I do like to either chat up-taxi drivers or random people in the streets in order to get to know their framing and perspective on their place. This helps me with settling-in and also with what you could call ‘cultural calibration’.

This time round, I took a spontaneous night walk in East London, just after prepping the following day’s research activities. While street-strolling, I chatted up a Bangladeshi dude that had just tossed away the remainders of what was a joint. He said that he would walk East London’s streets at nights endlessly, and that he would love taking me for a ride, if I were up for it.

The alleys and corridors of East London were full of energy and subversive art. Mostly graffiti. At some point, we passed by a brick wall, plastered with tiles of miniature artwork. While I generally photo-shot the hell out of the district, I also took an image of a ‘Mr. Dick Pic’-tile. Just because I thought it was a good laugh, I shared this image with my spontaneous night-guide – right from the back-display of the camera.

Now, it turned out that this photograph elicits quite a story in my new-found-friend:

He went on narrating that this tile must refer to what we might call subversion or street hacking: because parts of East London were pretty run down, and because of the city government refusing to refurbish, an artist was seeking own inventive ways. Spraying ‘dick pics’ onto public space, it turned out, made the government fresh-paint walls and even redo street-asphalt, all in an effort to erase the disturbing imagery from public gaze.

Turned out this ‘adverse effect’ encouraged many more people in East London to roam out into the streets, and to do just the very same: ‘dick pic-mark’ whatever they considered to be in need of some fresh paint or renovation. The rule was simple but straightforward: spray a dick-grafiti onto whatever, and the next day it will be all covered-up, in new fresh color.

The learning of the story might be three things:

  1. The power of cultural calibration as a technique of settling into the scene;
  2. the power of an image as a research stimuli to generate rich narrative insight; as well as
  3. the inventiveness of people to life-hack, subvert and appropriate their immediate life-world.

My PhD-ethnography “The mobile phone in urban Kenyan everyday life” is published as a book with Springer VS

Das Mobiltelefon im Alltagsleben des urbanen Kenia_books

After years of fieldwork and writing, I am proud to announce that my PhD-media ethnography has recently been published as a monograph with Springer VS:

Waltinger, Michael (2018): Das Mobiltelefon im Alltagsleben des urbanen Kenia. Eine medienethnografische Studie zur Mobiltelefonaneignung. [The mobile phone in urban Kenyan everyday-life. A media ethnography on mobile phone appropriation.] Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 435 pages. Book details and table of contents [in German] available via Springer VS. ISBN: 978-3-658-25220-5. 49,99 € [Softcover] / 39,99 € [eBook].

In this media ethnography, Michael Waltinger describes the appropriation of mobile phones in the everyday life of an urban community in Eastlands Nairobi (Kenya).
As its vantage point, the fieldwork studies people’s socio-structural living conditions in order to see how these are a pre-condition for and intertwined with everyday media appropriation. This is to contextualize social action on the micro-level of the subject with the larger societal macro-structure in which media action is embedded.
Everyday phone usage in the urban community of the ethnography spans different spheres of life in multifaceted ways. While the mobile phone is perceived as an ambivalent artifact that interacts with peoples life-worlds in both positive and negative ways, it undeniably is an integrative part of the ‘way of life’ in contemporary urban Nairobi: among others, the mobile phone is a symbol for being part of the ‘global village’, it is a culturally codified and polysemic sign of social distinction, and it is a significate of a locally defined afro-modernity.

Preview on Google Books

New publication: “A Framework for People Driven Design”

Framework for People-Driven Design (Research)

I had the great pleasure to co-develop the Framework for People-Driven Design (Research)“. The approach was to combine social science-thinking with design thinking and merging the two.

If you wish to spice up your #designthinking, you can read the article on the website of my employer Veryday (part of McKinsey Design)

You may quote it as follows:

Waltinger, Michael; Nilsson, Thomas (2018): A framework for people driven design. Stockholm: Veryday/McKinsey Design. Available online.

Book-chapter on “Media and Cultural Education” published

It has been a little while that I had the pleasure to attend the conference „Education is Relation not Output? – Scenes of Knowledge and Knowledge Acquisition“ (May 17th-19th 2016) at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden.

The talk and workshop that I gave within the panel „Art, Visual Culture and Media” has now been published as a book chapter:

Waltinger, Michael (2017): Media and Cultural Education – A Means to Social Cohesion in a Multicultural (Media) World. In: Rodríguez Sieweke, Lara (ed.): Learning Scenarios for Social and Cultural Change. Bildung through Academic Teaching. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition, pp. 171 – 183.

Here is the abstract:

In an increasingly mediatized world (Lundby; Hepp & Krotz)media usage is as much entangled in everyday life as everyday life is mediated (Röser; Paus-Hasebrink). The media are important agents of socialization (Hoffmann & Mikos)and are involved in the social construction of the world, as they carry social meaning and reproduce dominant social norms and ideologies (Devereux). In doing so, the media contribute to audiences forms of knowledge, not only about their immediate social surroundings but also about more distant contexts, places and cultures (ibid.).

As the world also becomes an increasingly globalized place, the flow of media images generally follows this trend. It does so, however, in a quite unequal fashion, creating what might be called a divided global village, whereas uneven flows of media images in their „re-presentation“ (ibid.) often reproduce the inequalities of the social world (Waltinger; Hall, Evans & Nixon).⁠ Additionally, both immigration countries where good parts of the population are foreign-born and the current refugee situation testify that it is also the flow of people that tends to become more global, making the world a smaller and denser place.

When globalized media worlds increasingly become intercultural life worlds, media education has to become part of essential education, because it is desirable that people are able to competently navigate through and participate in those media-life-worlds (Süss, Lampert & Wijnen).  Cultural education needs to become integral, since the concepts of cultural relativism and cultural sensitivity (Jandt) allow to appreciate different cultures without measuring them against own standards. The university as a place for social development could and should be a forum in which such knowledge is actively formed.

Book-chapter on the Media Map-Method published

Media Pedagogy Research Workshop: Projects – Theories – Methods

In my field research on The mobile phone in urban Kenyan everyday-life, I have developed a qualitative media research method that was used to collect empirical data from the field. A fully developed article on how the MediaMap exactly works as well as its theoretical and methodological framing has now been published as a book chapter:

Waltinger, Michael (2017): Die MediaMap – Eine explorative Forschungsmethode zur Entwicklung einer kontextualisierten Mediennutzungsperspektive. [The Media Map – An explorative method for researching media usage in context.] In: Knaus, Thomas (ed.): Forschungswerkstatt Medienpädagogik. Projekt – Theorie – Methode [Media Pedagogy Research Workshop: Projects – Theories – Methods.] . München: kopaed, pp. 253 – 286.

There is also an accompaniying micro-website on the MediaMap, containing a short description of the method as well as images of the development of the method, the research-setup and some examples of MediaMaps as produced by participants in my field research in Nairobi (Kenya): www.thinkbeyondborders.org/mediamap.

Talk on “Evaluating and Analyzing Qualitative Data” @ Mobiento/Deloitte Digital

Download the charts

If your are interested in User and/or Market Research, and you happen to live in the wider Stockholm area, I can highly recommend you check out the MeetUp-group Stockholm User Research. Smart, inspiring people and burning questions of the User Researcher’s daily bread abound, the group meets regularly to discuss a broad variety of user research-related topics. MeetUps alternate between usually smaller morning/breakfast/coffee-discussion rounds in a café/restaurant and usually larger afterwork/evening-sessions; the latter normally with two speakers and hosted by one of Stockholms thriving tech/research companies or digital agencies.

The last MeetUp was on the 30th of May 2017 and generously hosted by Mobiento/Deloitte Digital. I happened to have been approached by one of the MeetUp-group’s organizers and asked to say some words about the evaluation and analysis of qualitative research. The talk I gave was organized into three parts:

  1. The soundness of qualitative data (as opposed to quantitative data)
  2. Approaching qualitative data analysis – with a focus on computer aided content analysis
  3. How to get started with CAQDA tomorrow

For those that were at the MeetUp – and anyone else that might be interested – I thought I’d make the charts of the talk available for download here. In case there are any follow-up questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

After the talk, I have been approached for some tips on good texts on qualitative and ethnographic research as well as qualitative content analysis – a couple of texts that I find helpful for further reading:

Qualitative Research

Gilbert, Nigel (2009): Researching Social Life. 3rd edition. Los Angles: Sage Publications.

This is an excellent handbook-style reading with many shorter articles on most aspects of qualitative research. Beside other things, the books also contains a section on different (computer assisted) data analysis and coding techniques. Here’s a Google books-link.

Ethnographic Research

Campbell Galman, Sally (2007): Shane, the Lone Ethnographer. A Beginner’s Guide to Ethnography. New York: AltaMira Press.

This is a fun and fast to read 100 page short comic-style introductory text to ethnography, touching onto most aspects of ethnographic research – from entering into a research setting until writing up a report. The book also contains some tips on data collection and analysis methods. Here’s a Google books-link.

Content Analysis & Coding Techniques

Cole, Patricia (1994): Finding a path through the research maze. The Qualitative Report, 2(1), 14–18.
This is an older but still very good and short article of only a handful pages on some helpful coding techniques. Available here for download.

Talk on “Interrogating M4D-tales: some sociostructural aspects of ICTs and social change in everyday-life” at the Nordic Africa Days 2016 (Uppsala University)


Photograph of the conference-bag (© Michael Waltinger, 2016)

Having been able to contribute to the Nordic Africa Institutes (NAI) Nordic Africa Days 2016 at Uppsala University was a great pleasure as well as a fruitful and stimulating experience.

It is not often that one has the opportunity to meet over 200 researchers from more than 36 countries, of which a vast part were African nations. Not only was it very exciting from an academic point of view, but also culturally enriching and great to make new friends and deepen existing relationships.

Personally, I have mostly attended panels around the broader areas of “ICT and Mobile Media”“Feminism” and “Urbanity and Urban Infrastructure”, which again, was a very enriching experience.

I have contributed to the first area myself with a talk in Panel 10: Gender at the cutting edge: ICTs, social media and social change in East Africa. The panel was organized by Ylva Ekström (Uppsala University, Sweden) and Hilda Arntsen ( Oslo and Akershus College, Norway), who have done a stellar job in putting the panel together in such a thoughtful way.

My contribution was a talk titled
Interrogating M4D-tales: some sociostructural aspects of ICTs and social change in everyday-life. 

Here is an abstract of the talk:

Author: Michael Waltinger (University of Education, Ludwigsburg Germany)

The integration of new media into the everyday and different dimensions of social life are deeply intertwined. Life structures are reflected by the way how media are embedded and given meaning to. The mobile phone in that regard allows, for instance, to examine aspects of the social structures (e.g. roles and mutual expectations) of men and women in society.

While the agency of the subject and increasing availability of media devices need to be stressed in media participation and social change, the importance of structural challenges must not be overlooked. As issues of media access diminish, issues of knowledge, skills and resources gain importance – especially in lower-income urban settings and among women.

Media participation is no sure-fire success initiated by media availability – techno-euphoria needs to be ‘handled with care’. While people certainly bring media competencies with them and also appropriate new competencies in their daily media usage, structural constraints are real and self-socialisation in media usage has its boundaries – these are marked by the life conditions of and (educational) resources available to people.

Women in urban Kenya often are part of the informal economy, do not advance much beyond primary education, and there often is a lack in public media education. At the same time, women do often voice need and interest in maximizing their knowledge in order to fully utilize mobile media to their needs. Structural constraints, however, keep them from attending workshops, skill trainings, and the like. The daily hustle and struggle as well as the social responsibility of woman for caring (and often providing) for their families make it difficult to attend trainings or workshops. Hence, while it is often the less-educated and socio-economically disadvantaged that would want assistance the most, these are exactly the people for whom it is most difficult to benefit from respective opportunities.


Talk and Workshop on “Media and Cultural Education” @Education is Relation not Output?-Conference (Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden)

Education is Relation not Output

The conference

It has been a great pleasure to attend the recent conference “Education is Relation not Output? – Scenes of Knowledge and Knowledge Acquisition” (May 17th-19th 2016) at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden.

The conference was held in cooperation with the international scientific network Tacit Dimensions of Pedagogy. The conference’s purpose was as follows:

Re-thinking the idea of university and scholarly life means to critically examine the conditions for teaching in terms of the current policy discourses and freely develop an idea of university out of an international perspectiveUniversity does not exist simply to convey information or expertise. It is a society in which everyone is responsible for in a reflected way participating in diverse relationships to him-/herself, to others and to the world, and, based on diverse forms of knowledge and representation, actively forming them. In this conference combined with other spaces for discussion perspective on university as a place for social development will be opened up by academic scholars as well as by professionals in the fields of school as well as of art.

My contribution on “Media and Cultural Education”

My own contribution was a talk and workshop that was held within the panel “Art, Visual Culture and Media“.

In my opening talk, I was aiming for tapping into the idea of shaping a perspective on university as a place for social development from an international perspective beyond simply conveying expertise, but to see the university as responsible in helping people to advance in a direction of reflectively participating in diverse relationships to oneself, others and the world.

Especially since contemporary life is happening in spaces of intense proximity, where the interdependence of the diverse nations and cultures becomes more and more obvious, it is important to empower people to competently navigate those spaces. Hence, I proposed an increased emphasis on and discussion of media and cultural education as a means to social cohesion within the university as a place of public education.

The conference paper of the talk (ca. 10 pages) can be downloaded here (pdf-file). A book publication as a conference outcome is forthcoming. My paper will be found there as an official publication then, too.

A short remark on (the type of) mobile phones in urban Kenya

When being asked about my PhD-research (which is on the meaning of mobile phones in urban Kenya), I all too often hear the question: “Do ‘they’ have phones there?”

The short answer is: Yes.

A slightly longer answer, with a bit more of an interpretive touch, may well be given by a participant of my field research – the person here talks about what happens if you get robbed (which might happen in Nairobi), and a robber ‘catches’ you with a cheap mobile phone (referred to as a kabambe in Nairobi):

Nowadays, if you walk with a kabambe, they [the thieves] even beat you up. Coz it can´t be that nowadays in Nairobi someone can walk without or doesn´t have a smartphone. field research participant (2014)

The word kabambe in Kiswahili refers to a very basic mobile phone, often not even a feature phone. A kabambe is typically locked to be used with one specific provider only. Its main functions usually are calling and texting – maybe also a calender, calculator and FM radio.

Example of a "kabambe" (© Michael Waltinger, 2013)

Example of a “kabambe” (© Michael Waltinger, 2013)

Field Research_basics seminar at Linnæus University (Växjö)


Today, I had the great pleasure of holding a research seminar (högre seminarium) on the “Basics of Field Research” at the wonderful Linnæus University (Linnéuniversitetet), one of Sweden’s newest and very well equipped and beautiful higher education institutions (founded from a merger of the Kalmar and Växjö universities in 2010).

It was a great and inspiring seminar with fruitful discussion that I have enjoyed very much. I would like to also take this opportunity to once again thank the University for the invitation. I will gladly come back anytime.

The University is located in Växjö, which in itself is a very picturesque university town in Småland, Southern Sweden. Although todays seminar was not on the Sociology of Technology or Media Education, an engraving on one of the cities pavements reminds us:

“Vi sällskapa
för mycket
med maskinerna
och för lite med oss själva”
(Elisabeth Bergstrand-Poulsen)

Free translation:

We hang out
too much
with machines
and too little with ourselves.

sällskapa med maskinerna