This dissertation is an analysis of the widespread adoption of locative digital media in urban space. Building upon prior phenomenological theories of mobile interfaces and critical theories of technology, I provide an account of the micropolitics of locative media, using locational literacy as a key concept for articulating a renewed, and politically and ethically empowered understanding of how locative media play important roles in modern urban experiences. The thesis proceeds by first contextualizing the idea of locational literacy within locative media studies and mobilities research. I then elaborate the idea of locational literacy by synthesizing phenomenological and critical theories of technology, including Andrew Feenberg's critical constructivist approach (2002) in order to problematize geolocational media as a site of micropolitical struggle. Then I provide an account and analysis of field data collected through my ethnographic research. Here, I show how geolocational media users come to terms with and organize their values, attitudes, and identities through media technologies, and how both individual technical knowledge and institutional constraints influence their relative access to and effective use of geolocational media. Further on, I describe a user experience study involving mobile phone users, who were surveyed (a) before and (b) after using a geolocation tracking app for a two week period. In this discussion, I show how geolocational awareness is associated with attitudes, values, and opinions about urban life, sustainability and mobile locative devices. I conclude the dissertation with the claim that the potential for perceptual shifting enabled by geolocational media empowers individuals – albeit somewhat unevenly – in very particular ways. This perceptual shift and sense of empowerment, I argue, can lead to improved forms of community interaction and deliberation, which hinges on an express articulation and acknowledgement of locational media literacy in everyday experience. I also examine how the micropolitical struggles of users with geolocational media signify the potential for broader political change as these technologies become progressively more accurate and granular, and more surveillant and invasive.
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Thesis advisor: Smith, Richard
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