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An Audience and Domestication Research Perspective on Mediated Surveillance in the Lives of Adolescents

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In this paper, we demonstrate and discuss the relevance and potential of combining audience research and domestication theory as a means to explore mediated surveillance in the everyday lives of adolescents. In recent years, Media Studies have increasingly focused on issues of surveillance in regard to our media-saturated everyday lives (Andrejevic, 2007; Fuchs et al., 2013; Jansson & Christensen, 2014; Jansson, 2015; Trottier, 2016). This has pushed discussions on surveillance from a vertical macro level to a horizontal level pointing to the novel peer-to-peer surveillance practices associated with everyday communication technologies. Pertinent studies accentuate the need for contextualized and empirically grounded studies on mediatized culture vis-à-vis surveillance practices (Walby, 2005; Gad & Lauritsen, 2009) in particular among children and adolescents (Taylor & Rooney, 2017). Based on a case study of mediated surveillance in the everyday lives of adolescents, we argue that key concepts from audience research and domestication theory offer fruitful resources for more open-ended studies of mediatized everyday practices where surveillance is at stake. Both perspectives emphasize the active role of media users as they make meaning of and negotiate media as texts, communicative genres, or symbolic, material objects in specific groups and social and cultural contexts; not least within the domestic and family sphere (e.g., Lull, 1980; Morley, 1986; Morley & Silverstone, 1990; Silverstone & Hirsch, 1992; Berker et al., 2006). Specifically, we draw on the audience perspective to highlight the practices and properties of collectives by which meanings are (re)produced in and through media (cf. Livingstone, 1998). Furthermore, we introduce domestication theory in order to anchor and discuss the ‘moral economies’ embedded in these processes (cf. Silverstone, Hirsch, & Morley, 1992; Livingstone 2007), i.e., how the appropriation of technologies is shaped by flows of socio-cultural discourses, norms, and values coupled to specific social institutions and spheres of everyday life. This dual conceptual basis enables an understanding of surveillance/privacy as a highly social and negotiable issue closely coupled to identity processes, intimate relations, questions of trust, and quests for social integration. Consequently, the meaning of privacy and surveillance and the lived experience hereof, as well as possible manifestations of resistance and control are viewed as deeply rooted within collective socio-material activities. Specifically, we apply this dual analytical perspective on a case study of Danish teenagers’ perceptions of surveillance (parental surveillance as well as social surveillance) and privacy regarding mobile communication and social media practices. In total, we interviewed 50 Danish teenagers (15- to 17-year-olds) in gender-homogeneous groups of classmates. Based on these semi-structured focus group interviews, we present compelling evidence that 1) parental surveillance of adolescents’ use of their mobile phones and social media is generally perceived as unacceptable breaches of trust, 2) the meaning of surveillance is co-constructed between the domestic and the social sphere, and 3) girls and boys perceive and protect private information in very different ways. We end the paper by discussing the implications of our proposed dual perspective and our findings for future context-sensitive studies of surveillance practices in the everyday lives of adolescents.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year30 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2018
EventECREA 2018: Centres and Peripheries: Communication, Research, Translation - Lugano, Switzerland
Duration: 31 Oct 20183 Nov 2018


ConferenceECREA 2018

Bibliographical note

Pre-conference 31.10.2018: Children and Adolescents in a Mobile Media World.

    Research areas

  • Surveillance, Adolescents, Social media, Mobile Media, Audience studies

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