University of Illinois at Chicago

Dead Zones: A Phenomenology of Disconnection

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posted on 2020-08-01, 00:00 authored by Nathanael Edward Bassett
Studies of non-users largely focus around the who and why of disconnection, but not the experience of disconnectivity. Analyses of social media tend to dominate both quantitative analysis of who is a non-user and interview-based studies of the motivations of non-user. Thinking through these issues infrastructurally and phenomenologically means turning to other types of technologies and trying to understand the lived experience of those who disconnect. These questions are important as forms of media and technology become more pervasive in our society and more difficult to refuse. In this study, I look at disconnection from mobile media in the case of “dead zones” to understand how people experience non-use with a medium that we largely take for granted. My guiding questions for this study were what are people’s experiences of being disconnected from wireless connectivity to others? Second, how do people understand “the grid” (defined as the infrastructures that make up our society, specifically as cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity) as part of their lived experience? Through field site observation and 17 interviews I employed interpretive phenomenological analysis to develop and identify emerging themes and thematic clusters. In chapter 1, I introduce the problem of non-use in an increasingly technified society. Chapter 2 contains a literature review on scholarly approaches to disconnection and non-use. Chapter 3 is a review of my methodology and coding techniques. Chapter 4 contains an analysis of themes related to analysis from field site observations and interviews. Chapter 5 uses additional phenomenological analysis of select literature and historical analysis of Luddism. Chapter 6 outlines a theory of disconnectivity and phenomenological implications for studying non-use. Chapter 7 concludes the dissertation and offers recommendations for future research. Ultimately I argue that disconnection involves both concerns dealing with relationships as well as notions of agency and freedom around the artifacts and infrastructure itself. In dealing with future work on non-use we have to consider the experiences of the non-user and the way of being in the world that is created though coercive participation in technologies.



Rojecki, Andrew


Rojecki, Andrew



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Jones, Steve Massanari, Adrienne Young, Liam Warner, Richard

Submitted date

August 2020

Thesis type



  • en

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