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Virtual ontology, moral responsibility and agency : the ethical implications of mobile communication technology use on parenting style in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

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This thesis provides an analysis of the usage of smartphone technology by teenagers in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. This technology seems to be a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it is beneficial for teenagers to keep in touch with each other and with their family members without being confined by geographic borders. On the other hand, this technology provides teenagers access to virtual ontology which can challenge their agency. This challenge can compromise the moral responsibility of parents. When teenagers are glued to their smartphones whilst engaging in virtual ontology, they seem to socially remove themselves from the family setting. Parents are not always sure what exactly their children are engaging in whilst navigating virtual ontology. This thesis contextualises this problem into an African context. It establishes that in the African family, premised on values of interconnectedness and interrelatedness, the habit of smartphone usage by teenagers socially isolates them from their families and undermines the communal nature of the African family. The literature review in this thesis further exposes some of the ethical implications faced by parents and their teenagers, such as the issue of privacy, trust, responsibility, etc. The focus group interviews conducted with teenagers from Pietermaritzburg schools confirmed the existence of various ethical implications, establishing that the digital divide between parents and children plays a huge role in these existing implications. The thesis also reveals the perceptions of the parents through individual interviews, where parents expressed their sense of moral responsibility regarding the smartphone usage of their teenage children. In an attempt to address the challenge faced by African parents, this thesis proposes a holistic ethical perspective called the ethic of systemic coherence. This perspective requires African parents to deconstruct in order to reconstruct their moral responsibility in this technological age. This could enable them to lean towards a parenting style that will be helpful in keeping up with the exponentially developing smartphone technology used by their teenage children.


Doctor of Philosophy in Ethics. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2017.


Theses - Ethics Studies.