Chapter in a new book about human-smartphone-entanglements

Hohti, R., Paakkari, A. & Stenberg, K. (2019) Leaping and dancing with digitality: Exploring human-smartphone-entanglements in classrooms. In: Rautio, P. & Stenvall, E. (Eds.) Children and the Everyday: Arctic Childhoods Matter. Series Children: Global posthumanist perspectives and materialist theories. Springer.


This chapter explores children’s and young people’s engagements and attachments with digitality in Finnish school context. School research (e.g. Simola 2015) has brought out how classroom practice and routine seems to be surprisingly resistant to change to the extent that to an observer’s eyes, much of it looks practically unchanged during decades. However, the fact that smartphones increasingly participate in people’s lives might be one factor that triggers profound changes even inside school walls. We suggest that the relations between humans and their constant digital companions, their smartphones, cannot be reduced to instrumental pedagogical relations, and that to examine them, one needs to attend to complexity and open-endedness. Thus, in the following, we are not so much focusing on pedagogies, in how smartphones should be used to enhance learning, rather, we are curious about the material, bodily, temporal and spatial dimensions at play in situations in which children and young people and their digital devices entangle in schools and beyond.

In talking about young people’s engagements with smartphones, we will particularly emphasise two aspects: firstly, the affective nature these engagements, or as we like to think about them following Haraway (2003), companionships. The processes in which phones become young people’s companions in everyday life are material, embodied, and deeply intimate. In our empirical examples we discuss for example boredom and addiction in relation to this. Secondly, we emphasise the ‘beyond’ perspective, as we see it crucial to take into account that smartphones are making schools less and less disconnected from everyday life outside schools. There is a multidirectional dynamic in the digital engagements, which means that not only students access their phones, and through their phones global flows and networks, but also the phones access their users. Events, ideas, and provocations from outside the traditional realm of education flow into classrooms via students’ phones. The local understandings of education, and of digitalization and technology as part of it, thus necessarily intersect with larger knowledge networks and affective flows as well as the material chains of production. We ask, what could be seen as distinctively Finnish or Nordic in this case? The hyperconnectedness created through the students’ smartphones necessarily disturbs the spatiality and temporality of schools.


Gender and sixth graders’ mobile phone use (thesis in the making)

I am a sociology student who is doing his master’s thesis on gender in the context of sixth graders’ relations to their mobile phones. Focus groups with a class of sixth graders and interviews with their current teacher as well as one of their past teachers will make up the main part of my data. Most of the focus groups have already been conducted, and they’ve produced some fruitful information on the complex ways that the mobile phone configures into the everyday lives of children.

It seems clear that data collected by a sociologist and an “outsider” who the students aren’t familiar with differs from that collected by a teacher or another authority figure who the students know. The children have let me in on some interesting information they maybe wouldn’t have disclosed to their teachers or parents.

At times, the students have also taken over the interviewing in the focus groups while I have just listened in. It’s become clear to me that the children have much more knowledge on many of the intricacies of the world of mobile and digital technology than I do. Many dimensions of the students’ “phone world” can only be illuminated by a slang and new vocabulary unknown to older generations. This is exactly why children and youth should be given the freedom to themselves take the lead in discussions on the digital technology of today. A central objective of my thesis is to mediate the voice of the students to those interested in the sociology of mobile phones.

More to come later…