doctoral research

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Working title

The mobile phone in urban Kenyan everyday-life.
A media ethnography on mobile phone appropriation with particular regard to everyday media competencies.


Research topic

„In East Africa, mobile phones are now so much
more accessible than fixed lines that in everyday
Swahili these new technologies are referred to simply
as simu (phones), and less as simu ya mkononi
(handheld [i.e., mobile] phones). The fixed-line telephone (simu ya kawaida) is now largely disregarded“
(Molony, 2008, S. 341).

Many nations in sub-saharan Africa are faced with rather rudimentary media househould equipment as well as some digital/media divides when it comes to media access and usage. It seems likely that a combination of sociostructural as well as socioeconomical factors are playing a role in this context. Although some urban regions are increasingly well connected to global media flows – this mostly being companies and (governmental) institutions – there is still a considerable rural-urban-divide as well as significant social inequality when it comes to media usage, access or possession.

While the (community) radio is widespread and established, there is another star rising on the horizon: the mobile phone. This medium seems to revolutionise the media landscape in a manifold manner. In this context, but also because of the rapid spread of mobile phones in society, questions on the specific meanings, usage and embeddedness of this technological artifact in peoples everyday-life seem relevant.

Since media usage and appropriation is situated right in the midst of people’s everyday-lives and, hence, influenced by different socio-structural aspects, those life contexts and also media-related resources such as everyday media competencies are taken into account.


Desideratum and research-guiding questions

The research is aiming for scrutinizing the coherences mentioned above in urban Kenya. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the academic fields of media pedagogy, media sociology, media anthropology, and the communication sciences shall perspectively enrich the research on its intersections and benefit from a mutual interrogation.

The research-guiding question – which is further dissected in a subordinated set of questions – is as follows:

„How are mobile phones embedded into everyday-life in an urban Kenyan context and what role do everyday-media competencies play?“

Hence, the research project focusses on the description of peoples life-contexts as well as the empirically grounded analysis of everyday-media usage and -competencies.

The study has been conducted through a media ethnographic field research-approach and concentrates on a particular neighborhood in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.


Research methods

Since there is yet rather little and scattered knowledge about the particular research topic in question, the study and its conceptualisation are based on an inductive paradigm, following a qualitative-ethnographic approach. Hence, it is aimed for ‚thick description‘, having the concept of ‚verstehen‘ (understanding) rather than the one of ‚erklären‘ (explaining) as a foundation.

In order to approach the research guiding questions, the study draws on a triangulation of observational methods and field notes, group interviews, ethnographic interviews, field questionnaires as well as document collection.

Besides that, the field research has brought forth a new method that is called MediaMap. The MediaMap has been developed from a set of existing research methods and is a visual and sensory media research method. Further information on the MediaMap as well as a couple of photographs of the method are to be found on the MediaMap-Website.

Updated: July 2016 © Michael Waltinger


Institutional affiliation

The research project is affiliated to the University of Education, Ludwigsburg (Germany), Faculty I (Education and Social Sciences), Department of Media Pedagogy [this link will lead to a pdf-file describing the department’s work since there is no web-version yet].

Supervised by:
Prof Dr Horst Niesyto (University of Education, Ludwigsburg)
Prof Dr Oliver Zoellner (Stuttgart Media University)