ECREA Conference, Prague, 9-12 November 2016.
Abstract: Based on an extensive literature review on the existing influences between capital(s) and digital access, this paper will highlight the reciprocal influences between five capitals and digital capital, proposing a new theoretical approach in analysing digital inequalities. Social (Bourdieu 1986; Coleman 1990; Putnam 1995), economic (Bourdieu 1986), personal (Becker 1996), political (Seyd and Whitely 1997), and cultural capitals (Bourdieu 1986) influence the rise of digital capital which, in turn, not only generate a digital divide between people who can and cannot access the Internet (first level of digital divide), but also inequalities in terms of benefits they can gain on-line (second level of digital divide). Moreover, these 6C tend to create the third level of digital divide, seen as the returning social benefits of using the Internet.
More specifically, this paper proposes to examine the six above mentioned capitals and how they can affect digital capital. Moreover, we shall see how digital capital, in turn, influences the number and types of activities online producing effects on social/cultural/economic/political/individual/knowledge capitals as well. This vicious circle shows both how the digital and other capitals are directly interconnected and how traditional social inequalities are replicated, if not reinforced, by digital inequalities. Despite the interconnections between all forms of capitals, here we focus on the role of social capital in influencing internet use and returning benefits (third level of digital divide). By creating new and reinforcing already existing social networks, the Internet may improve life chances (Weber).
There is a strong connection between the cultural, social, economic backgrounds of users and their Internet use. Users’ backgrounds might influence the way they search and process information online, which in turn can represent opportunities (or lack of it) of improving life chances. By analysing five macro-areas (Virtual communities, strong ties; Weak ties; Enlargement of social networks; Increase of visibility; Knowledge, trust and freedom) in which digital and others capitals are directly interconnected, we shall see the benefits and opportunities generated by the Internet, but also the inequalities that may generate. Indeed, when citizens use the Internet, they need to have already built a solid social capital in their off-line life (together with proper cultural and economic background and personal motivations). Indeed, as is well known, social capital not only consists of social networks, but it refers to abilities and opportunities to create social network, thanks to trust-generating mechanisms, in a context defined by social norms. Likewise off-line life, this approach is also valid for the Internet use, in which user is responsible for creating its own opportunities. As a consequence, those who access the internet with a high endowment of social and other form of capitals will be more likely to reproduce their capital on-line by applying mechanisms similar to those adopted off-line, for generating on-line or digital capital. In turn, the digital capital generated online, will support users off-line activities. In this sense, the Internet seems to privilege the privileged, exactly as Bourdieu described the off-line mechanisms of social capital production.