"I'd would die without it"
: A study of Chilean teenagers' mobile phone use in school

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The present study explores how Chilean teenagers (15-16 years old) negotiate their mobile phone use in school settings. A sociocultural and practice theory perspective was used to define the use of mobile phones as a multi-layered and relational practice within the cultural worlds of schooling and everyday life. In a context where personal devices are becoming a mundane aspect of schools, and new perspectives about connected digital lives of young people are being discussed, this research offers an alternative viewpoint through a holistic and interconnected way of seeing the phenomenon from teenagers’ point of view.

This study used an ethnographic methodological approach to examine teenagers’ phone negotiation process in two schools in Santiago, Chile. The research questions were: What elements in the school world are constraining or enabling teenagers’ mobile phone use?; How are teenagers negotiating their use of mobile phones in classes with teachers?; How are teenagers orchestrating different positionalities in their use of mobile phones in school?

The researcher spent three months with two Year-11 classes (one from each school) and their teachers, and, more closely, with eight students. Individual and group interviews, participant observations in and out of the classroom, and co-analysis of data with participants were conducted during fieldwork. A combination of thematic, event and narrative analysis methods were carried out to explore and construct the connections between young people using their phones and the context (school/classroom) within the cultural worlds they participate in.

The study reveals that students’ mobile phone use finds a place in school because a negotiation in-practice is occurring, in which the interests of the schools, teachers, students and parents intersect and pull in diverse directions. In this context, students are aware of the gaps and possibilities for their phone use. However, the study also shows that the phone use can be understood as a prioritisation of ways of being and participation in cultural worlds of school, peers and family life, and not as an oppositional practice to school. The way teenagers use their mobile phones in schools, including strategies to keep using it, are grounded in who they are and who they want to be as students, peers and daughters/sons. These findings suggest the positionalities between families and schools, and students and teachers, and students’ school experiences are being redefined around the phone use in school. From this perspective, there is a need to educate about phone use in different settings, and to define phone regulations that incorporate the different actors involved, including students.
Date of Award1 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorSue Timmis (Supervisor) & Sally B Barnes (Supervisor)


  • digital media
  • ethnography
  • mobile phone
  • practice theory
  • sociocultural theory
  • relational approach
  • situated approach
  • teenagers
  • adolescents
  • youth
  • students
  • secondary school
  • agency
  • positional identities
  • reconfigurations
  • student-led data collection
  • social practices
  • schooling
  • schools
  • young people
  • connected approach
  • identities in practice
  • Dorothy Holland
  • cultural worlds
  • figured worlds
  • everyday use of digital technologies
  • participant observations
  • interviews

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