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Technology as social practice: A case study of two families and their home computer use

, Teachers College, Columbia University, United States

Teachers College, Columbia University . Awarded


Lack of access to computers in homes is considered an obstacle to achieving social equity in the US. This case study investigates the home computer use of two families, an African American and a Chinese-Irish family. The children attended a public middle school located in New York City, which provides personal lap-top computers to its students. The study is built upon the perspectives of New Literacy Studies and documents technological literacy practices. The primary data collection took place in the homes of the two families. Participant observation, field notes and interviews were used for data collection and analysis. The two major findings were: (1) that the family members' perception of, negotiation with, and interpretation of the technology influenced its uses at home, and (2) that technology changed home-school boundaries. The computers were often seen by the families as cultural capital, and the symbolic value of the computer shaped how the computer was handled at home. In one family, educational content was considered more important than learning computer skills, while in the other family, learning computer skills was considered important capital which a child must acquire in order to be successful in school and the job market. The social practices of technology reflected these values in the two families. The study also illustrates a case in which the child skillfully shifted between formal and informal registers in digital discourse, such as using African-American vernacular when chatting with his friends on-line and Standard English when preparing a PowerPoint presentation for school, thereby showing awareness of social appropriateness, and, thus, crossing the boundaries between school and home. To conclude, the findings indicate that, given the two families' different appropriations of technology at home, how technology is used is more important than mere access.


Iinuma, M. Technology as social practice: A case study of two families and their home computer use. Ph.D. thesis, Teachers College, Columbia University. Retrieved February 19, 2019 from .

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