Young people's creative understanding of their mediaworlds

Lead Research Organisation: University of Westminster
Department Name: Faculty of Media Arts and Design


This research project will explore young people's experience of using and creating media today. It will use innovative research strategies, involving visual creativity, metaphor, narratives and storytelling, in order to understand the role that media creation, sharing, and consumption plays in young people's everyday lives and relationships, and how they consider their own identities.

The project will explore the motivations underpinning different kinds of media use and communication, and how individuals understand the relationship between their individuality, their social identity, and the media they produce, share and consume. It will seek to establish models which will help researchers to understand the experience of 'audiencehood', media 'reception' or 'participation' for young people today - in part through asking young people themselves.

It has become commonplace to observe that the traditional notion of the media 'audience' has collapsed, especially for young people, as engagement with popular culture today means creating and sharing media, as well as consuming it. Traditional models, which were based around notions such as the 'reception' of television broadcasting or the 'reading' of mass-produced media products, are now only partially useful. Today's media consumers can also be media producers, sharing images and music that they have created online, making online presentations of self (such as in MySpace), collaboratively producing knowledge in wikis, and using various 'Web 2.0' tools to communicate, to share information, ideas, and media materials, and to express themselves.

Of course, such claims can also be overblown: individuals may not want to be creating a lot of the time - they might simply want to be entertained - and although online tools have become simpler to use in recent years, there are different degrees of skill and comfort with new technologies, and, of course, different levels of technical, cultural and financial resources affect access.

It is already clear that traditional quantitative and qualitative research methods can only give us a partial understanding of these experiences. The project proposes that we need new forms of empirical research, to more fully understand the everyday experience of living and participating in a complex mediaworld. This connects with a shift in media audience studies, in which it has been argued that research participants should not be merely expected to generate talk about their media consumption, but should be given opportunities to create, and then reflect upon, creative artefacts themselves.

As well as understanding 'what' young people do with media, in all its forms - which to some extent we know already from academic and commercial studies - we also need to get to grips with the motivations, tensions and conflicts which drive and affect media use and communication, and have an impact upon the outcomes (such as: how the self is presented; how new information is responded to; which trends or issues become popular and have advocates, or are deprecated and have detractors).

The study will seek to develop innovative visual and creative research methods, which will make use of metaphors and narratives, in order to acquire richer understandings of social experience.

Description The project explored young people's experience of using and creating media today, with particular attention given to the affordances of new digital technologies. The complexities of their relationships with traditional and social media were explored in the several publications stemming from this study.

The project also developed new creative methods which enabled young people to communicate, using metaphors, their feelings and preferences.
Exploitation Route The findings are of use to those who seek to engage young people using electronic media - whether for education, entertainment, or other purposes.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The impact of research by or led by David Gauntlett, including this project, was submitted as a REF2014 impact case study. This case study was rated 100% 4-star. The case study can be found online at:
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Title Creative research method - mixed media 
Description A development of 'creative research methods' (Gauntlett, 2007), where participants in qualitative social research are invited to make things, and reflect on them, as part of the process. In this case, the starting point was a cardboard box (like a shoe box) and a wide range of arts and crafts materials were offered. This enabled participants to make an 'identity box' which could be discussed with the researcher. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2009 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The approach has been adopted by other researchers. This is discussed in an article by Rose Wiles et al., 'But is it innovation?: The development of novel methodological approaches in qualitative research', published in Methodological Innovations Online (2013) 8(1) 18-33.