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Critical Information Literacy and Political Agency : A Critical, Phenomenographic and Personal Construct Study of Young People’s Experiences of Political Information

Smith, Lauren (2016) Critical Information Literacy and Political Agency : A Critical, Phenomenographic and Personal Construct Study of Young People’s Experiences of Political Information. PhD thesis, University Of Strathclyde.

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Abstract

This work focuses on young people’s experiences of political information, to identify how information literacy instruction may support young people to develop political agency. To explore the phenomenon of political information, the study uses three theories: personal construct theory, phenomenography and critical pedagogical theory. The methods used were surveys, repertory grid interviews and semi-structured focus groups. Prior to the collection of substantive data, a survey was conducted to gain insight into the participants’ political knowledge and attitudes. To identify what sources of political information young people are exposed to, 23 repertory grid interviews were conducted with 14 and 15 year old pupils in a secondary school in South Yorkshire, England. To map the different ways in which these sources are understood, three focus groups were conducted in line with the phenomenographic approach. Parents, friends and teachers were found to be the most influential sources of the wide range of political information the participants use and are exposed to. Additionally, mass media and social media were found to be significant. The interview and focus group data was analysed using personal construct theory and phenomenographic techniques to produce a set of personal construct categories and a phenomenographic outcome space. The participants experienced the production of information, the evaluation of information, the relationship between their use of information and their sense of political agency, and their conception of politics in variously complex ways. Although the majority of experiences of political information were found to be lacking a critical dimension, the potential for young people to critically evaluate information and its sources was identified. Several critical pedagogical concepts were identified as being of potential use to practitioners seeking to support young people in the development of critical capacities. The most relevant of Giroux’s critical pedagogical concepts to illuminate the structural issues affecting young people’s experiences of political information were identified as political illiteracy, the banking model of education, media literacy, political agency, civic literacy and critical consciousness. These findings contribute to information literacy and information behaviour theory. Most significantly, the recommendations emerging from the analysis of the research data through the outcome space and construct categories may help practitioners in their work, to better understand the information literacy needs of young people in relation to political participation.