‘Taking hold’ of mobile phone stories in a Cape Flats reading club
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This ethnographically-orientated intervention explored how members of a Cape Flats reading club “took hold” (Street, 2009) of digital literacy in their engagement with online fictional stories accessed by a mobile phone. The Masifunde reading club takes place inside the premises of a church located in one of the most impoverished and resource-constrained communities on the outskirts of Cape Town. The club is connected to a bigger sets of clubs under the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign seeking to create nurturing spaces for learning by introducing children to literacy through story-telling. I wanted to diversify and increase the literacy material available by introducing mobile phones to the club. This research paper is theoretically grounded in the New Literacy Studies (NLS) framework which argues that the social turn and digital turn to literacy have transformed literacy. I adopted an ethnographic approach to literacy in order to understand how mobile reading is ‘taken hold’ of within an already established activities of the club which are conceptualized using Goffman’s (1983) “interaction order”. Goffman’s (1983) “interaction order” was used to map the established print-based interaction order and then to examine the practices of reading online fiction and the materiality of the mobile phone as taken hold of within this interaction order. The notion of ‘taking hold’ of was further extended to reveal the ways in which mobile stories were resemiotized in the shared practices of the club members. The introduction of mobile phones is viewed within Prinsloo’s (2005) “placed resources” concept that pays attention to the specificity of the context in how the phone was taken hold of. What is more, through Goffman’s (1956) back stage and front stage concept, I was able to trace using Ker’s (2005) “text-chain” concept, how interactions in the back region WhatsApp group chat moved across space-time to the front stage interactions in the Saturday club event. This revealed the ways in which the uses and valuing of the phone changed across these spaces, with the phone being naturalised in the back stage, but being treated as a difficult object in the front stage sessions by the volunteers, while the children took up the phones in easy ways consistent with the existing interaction order and therefore as placed resources. The study reveals that triumphalist claims about uptake of digital technologies in resource-poor contexts and dismal internet connectivity need to be treated with caution.