University of Leicester
2024 Alareifi N PhD.pdf (4.07 MB)

Children, Identity and the Media: How Children as Active Audiences Make Use of their Favourite Screen Media Texts to Engage with their Saudi National Identity

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posted on 2024-03-12, 09:57 authored by Noor Alareifi

Considering the vital role of popular media in the formation of societal structures, values and identities, and taking into account the importance of reinforcing the national identity of young Saudis within the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative, the study takes a critical cultural approach that focuses on children’s reception by exploring the ways in which they, as audiences, make use of their favourite screen media texts to engage with their Saudi national identity.

The subject was investigated from a qualitative inductive research standpoint. The study adopted a creative artwork method (drawings) and one-to-one semi-structured interviews conducted online through video calls to capture the children’s insights. The screen media texts that the children liked and spoke about also added another layer of contextual analysis. The fieldwork took place in October 2020 with a total of 17 participants (10 girls and 7 boys). The sample included Saudi children aged 7 and 8 years (equivalent to 8 and 9 years in the Islamic/ Hijri calendar) living in different locations in Saudi Arabia.

Societal–social–cognitive–motivational theory (Barrett, 2007; Barrett and Davis, 2008) and the British object relations tradition in psychoanalytic psychology were central to the understanding of childhood self-development and sense of identity in this study. In addition, the work was strongly informed by the process of imagining nations (Anderson, 1983, 2006) and also drew on work on banal nationalism (Billig, 1995) and the discussion of representation and the media (Hall, 1997).

Thematic and semiotic analysis were applied, and the findings demonstrated that distinct gendered differences were fundamental to the participants’ conceptualisation of their identities.

Even though the Saudi child participants apparently constructed their sense of self in line with the traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity in the Middle East, the data revealed that the female participants, unlike their male counterparts, did not fully adhere to these gendered roles and traditions. Alongside the gender discourses, the data showed that religion (Islam) and loyalty to the country’s rulers are key components of Saudi children’s understanding of theirnational identity. The findings also revealed that the communication process between media and child audiences is more complicated than a direct cause-and-effect relationship, since the children brought elements of themselves to the reading and interpretation of the Western media texts that they liked and had chosen as their favourites. Conducting this child-based research in an Arab/Muslim context in Saudi Arabia adds to the existing knowledge and understanding of childhood and contributes to the gap in media audience research, particularly in the Middle East.



Melanie Kennedy; Joanne Whitehouse-Hart

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Media, Communication and Sociology

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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