The rise of the Digital capital and its relation with the third level of Digital Divide (IAMCR 2017)

Digtal capitalAt the International Association of Media and Communication Research annual conference in Cartagena (16-20 July) I introduced the concept of Digital Capital and I explained its relationship with the third level of Digital Divide. Great positive response and feedback from audience. Next step is how to operationalize the digital capital.

Here the abstract of my presentation. This paper makes a theoretical contribution by looking at the rise of the digital capital and how its relation with previous Five Capitals (social, economic, personal, political and cultural capitals) generates both inequalities in online experience (second level of digital divide), and it creates the third level of digital divide, seen as the returning social benefits of using the Internet (Ragnedda 2017). The digital capital is a bridge capital which influence the ways people look for information, their motivation, support, and provide the skills to elaborate, process and use such information to improve their life chances. The opportunities given by the use of ICTs are not the same for everybody, but are the product of the interaction between the 5Cs and the digital capital. To make profitable the benefits gained on the digital realm and invest them into the social realm, users/citizens need a solid and strong social (Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1990; Putnam, 1995), political (Seyd and Whitely, 1997), economic (Bourdieu, 1986), personal (Becker, 1996) and cultural capitals (Bourdieu, 1986) on which to rely on. These 5Cs help citizens to turn the digital benefits into social benefits and to exploit the full advantages offered by the Internet (third level of digital divide). The paper will look at the process through which income (economic capital) education (cultural capital), family and occupation (social and personal capital), motivation and purpose of use (personal capital), and political engagement (social and political capital) determine the rise of the digital capital and how, in turn, this new capital affects the digital divide at its three levels: access-use-benefits. Although, the digital capital is not a new concept, it has been used mainly in relation to the resources on which the development of new services and products for the digital economy rely (see e.g. Tapscott et al., 2000; Roberts and Townsend, 2015). What is missing in the literature is both a theoretical discussion on the digital capital, and how it could affect the second and third level of digital divide.

Thus this paper will fill the gap in the literature by, first, proposing a clear definition of digital capital and its relationship with the 5Cs; second, a discussion on how this relationship influence digital inequalities; and, third, how it reinforces or mitigate previous social inequalities. The final aim is to understand the best set of usable resources and powers (Bourdieu 1996) that can be used to measure the degree of digital capital, and to provide a theoretical frame against which to operationalize this new capital and empirically test its validity.

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