Doctoral thesis

Empowering minority voices


481 p.

Thèse de doctorat: Università della Svizzera italiana, 2013 (jury note: Magna cum laude)

English Minority cultures have a history of voicelessness. If in the past lack of voice was conditioned by dominating majority groups and discriminating social structures, at present this needs to be seen in relation to the unequal distribution of tools and platforms that can enable expression, communication, and participation in the public sphere of discourse. The growing importance and ubiquity of information and communication technologies (ICTs) create new premises and open new possibilities for the exercise of voice. Moreover, appropriation of ICTs by minority cultures is not only a matter of access, but requires deeper consideration of how the uptake of ICTs affects the existing community dynamics, knowledge production, and communication practices. This study engages with such issues, examining the conditions under which ICTs can support minority communities in ways that respond to local needs and goals and are consonant with local worldviews and epistemologies. To this purpose, it draws on the body of knowledge studying the use of ICTs for community development, focusing on poor, disadvantaged, and marginalised groups. The research was designed to favour the emergence of local views through inductive reasoning, grounded investigation, and a cyclic approach to data generation and analysis. Two complementary methodological approaches were used. Participatory Action Research informed the design, implementation, and assessment of a participatory content production experience involving two rural Romani communities in South-Eastern Romania. Grounded Theory, a methodology for inductive theory generation, was used as the overarching framework for the research design, and provided principles and procedures for case selection, data generation and analysis, and transferability of outcomes. The main results of this study can be synthesized as follows: 1. Context-Responsive Action: a methodological framework for the design, implementation and evaluation of community media initiatives. 2. Conceptual contributions: an examination of the conditions for community involvement in the design of technology-enhanced communication processes and artefacts. 3. A web design format: a template for community websites that reflects the systematic design approach employed, favouring orality, first-person narratives, and interpretation of web design components through local perspectives. 4. Two community websites: two specific instantiations of the design format for the rural communities involved in this research. The main original contribution of this study may be considered the concept of context-responsiveness, i.e. the capacity of a socio-technical environment to single out evolution of needs and goals and to devise ways for dynamically adapting to meet them. Three strategies for instantiating context- responsiveness are proposed: learning, envisioning, and alignment. Learning expands the knowledge base on ICTs and makes explicit views, needs, and wants. Envisioning builds upon this foundation to give direction and purpose to the appropriation of ICTs. Alignment refers to the process by which the usage of ICTs is connected to the goals and interests elicited, using indicators operationalized from the vision. When applied iteratively throughout a community-based technological intervention, these three strategies can enable members to direct the change brought about by the introduction of ICTs towards the advancement of self-identified goals. This study could serve as an exemplar to nourish the debates around the relationship between ICTs and voice in minority communities, both in the academic and practitioners’ arenas.
  • English
Information, communication and media sciences
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