Original Research

Digital media, the body and agency in a South African education institution from the perspective of narrative research

William Kelleher
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 16, No 1 | a859 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v16i1.859 | © 2020 William Kelleher | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 March 2020 | Published: 26 August 2020

About the author(s)

William Kelleher, Unit for Academic Literacy, Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


In developing countries, digital media have created uneven nexuses of literacy, power and societal adjustment. Whilst literacy and power have been the subject of much research in South Africa, often supporting a conception of digital media as a resource (the access to and advantages of specific devices or applications), this study also sought to reflect on personal and societal change as bodily and ontological experience. The aim was to contribute to redefining what the digital media represents in education, and to do so through an exploration of the journey of a tertiary education student who used digital media to negotiate his academic and interpersonal environment. This constituted a local, ethnographic investigation into digital media through the narrative analysis of a series of accounts told by the participant over 2 years. The accounts were firstly examined in terms of the three axes of gesture, gaze and audition, and instrumentalisation. These three axes had resulting implications for conceptions of digital media as resource or as bodily and ontological experience. The agentive implications of the accounts were then discussed in terms of the same three axes in order to question orality and community, gestural experimentation, embedding and the co-constitution of the human and the technical. The findings were that digital media engage the body and that aspects of one’s being in the world, such as culture, community and disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can fundamentally inform and transform what digital media mean and how we interact with them.


digital media; embodiment; narrative research; agency; Africanism; orality; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


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