From ‘disengaged’ To Digital: Latino Boys As Emergent Technology Experts

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Cultural Anthropology
Foundations of Education
Latinx Studies
Learning Sciences
Linguistic Anthropology
Youth Studies
Ethnic Studies
Social and Cultural Anthropology
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Anthropological research suggests that young Latino men face a complex set of cultural norms that can make it difficult to identify as experts in technology. In education research Latino boys have historically been framed in relation to deficit-perspectives. This dissertation provides an account of Latino boys as self-efficacious learners. I ask, a) how did a group of Latino boys integrate their cultural values and extant technology-related learning practices into self-directed digital literacy learning?; b) What pertinent social processes shaped their emerging sense of themselves as members of a group of digital literacy learners?; and, c) How did these emergent technology experts formulate narratives about their educational trajectories and imagined futures based on their technical and social practice skills development? Over eighteen months, eight Mexican-origin middle school boys met in a community center technology room. Utilizing a critical ethnographic approach, I observed the boys self-directed digital literacy practices, including coding, 3-D drafting, and graphic design. I collected 55 hours of audio recordings, semi-structured interviews, and participant products, as well as producing field notes and analytic memos to reflexively evaluate emergent concepts. The ethnographic accounts suggest a mode of social identity formation wherein the boys applied their cultural values and learning practices to self-directed endeavors. A pattern emerged in which the boys acknowledged the specialized skills of each other, and in turn, had their own forms of digital literacy expertise recognized. I contend the participants came to understand themselves and fellow group members as emergent digital literacy experts, developed communicative repertoires aligned with technologically proficient social identities. This research contributes to scholarship in cultural anthropology, education/learning sciences, and Latinx studies. This research pushes the boundaries of critical ethnography by positioning the researcher as an activist-scholar. It focuses on how learners from non-dominant groups can develop identity trajectories in relation to their informal STE(A)M learning practices. And, it interrogates how a Xicanx researcher can participate with Latinx youth as a coordinator of dialogue, a navigator of educational spaces, and a colonizer valuing neoliberal ends/trajectories.

Kathleen D. Hall
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