You are here:

Family literacy and digital literacies: A redefined approach to examining social practices of an African-American family

, State University of New York at Albany, United States

State University of New York at Albany . Awarded


This dissertation examines the digital literacy practices of an urban African-American family. Using an ethnographic case study approach (Stake, 2000), this qualitative study explores the multiple ways a mother (Larnee) and son (Gerard) interacted with digital literacies in the home. Situated within the framework of sociocultural traditions from New Literacy Studies, which views literacy as a social and semiotic practice, and multimodality, which highlights multiple modes of meaning, this research asked how an African-American family in poverty enacted digital literacies in the home, how digital literacies shaped family relational practices, and how a mother and her children interchangeably apprenticed one another when engaging in digital literacies.

Interviews and audio- and videotaped participant observations were conducted. Document collection, digital walks, and digital photos, along with discussions around a digital literacy timeline, were carried out. Data analysis involved using qualitative coding procedures informed by grounded theory (Strauss, 1987) and ATLAS.ti, a qualitative coding software to code transcripts. Activity Theory was used to examine the structure of human activity in the home via the seven activity systems.

Mediated discourse analysis was used to identify and interpret the Alis' moment-to-moment discursive and multimodal practices to focus on how Larnee and Gerard made sense of their practices (Norris & Jones, 2005; Scollon 2001a; 2001b). Multimodal discourse analysis was used to explore the multimodality of mediated actions (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001; van Leeuwen, 2004), that is, how multiple modes of communication (e.g., visuals, gestures, sounds, etc.) outside of the spoken language carry meaning. This analysis focused on the unnoticed nuances that were present in Larnee's and Gerard's lives.

Themes such as agency, identity, and power through family relational practices emerged that address how Larnee and Gerard engaged in digital literacy practices (e.g., texting and IMing, taking apart a computer, creating blogs, or designing comic strips) as mediating tools to help them make sense of their lives. Participants demonstrated new ways in which digital literacies shaped and reshaped how they communicated, interacted and identified with one another; constructed new semiotic tools to make sense of on- and offline identities in multimodal spaces; and illustrated how asymmetrical and symmetrical relationships emerged and enhanced communication between a mother and son, changing the dynamics of family structures in literacy research and in the home (Stuve, 2003).


Lewis, T.Y. Family literacy and digital literacies: A redefined approach to examining social practices of an African-American family. Ph.D. thesis, State University of New York at Albany. Retrieved January 18, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

For copies of dissertations and theses: (800) 521-0600/(734) 761-4700 or