Massimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu (2017) Social capital and the three levels of digital divideIn Ragnedda M., Muschert G. eds. (2017), Theorizing Digital Divides, Routledge.
Introduction. Although the relation between the Internet and social capital has been largely investigated (Wellman, 2001; Vergeer and Pelzer, 2009; Hampton, Sessions, and Her, 2011), the nature of such relation is still unclear. The ongoing dispute is still between two opposite positions emphasized in the really early stage of Internet studies (Wellman, 2001): on the one hand, the Internet increases and improves social relationships (Lévy, 1997); on the other, it negatively affects face-to-face relationships (Stoll, 1995). A number of studies have implicitly investigated that relation by emphasizing the role of the Internet in promoting both new democratic, participatory and open spaces (Sproull and Kiesler, 1991; Kapor, 1993), and collective action (Frantzich, 1999; Diani, 2000). This enthusiastic attitude, which we can define as a “techno-evangelist” approach, sees the Internet as a place of freedom in which people (with similar and different perspectives) meet up for “building” something together. According to this approach, the virtual space gives to users a “power capital”, represented by freedom of choices and democratic spaces of discussion. In these virtual spaces, citizens have the power to decide and mobilize people and resources towards a common objective. By contrast, a “techno-skeptic” approach sees the other side of the coin, in which Internet users increase their activity online while decreasing and weakening their social interactions and civil participation offline (Kraut et al., 1998; Gladwell, 2010; Fenton and Barassi, 2011). More specifically, earlier studies show how online activities may also enhance and increase social, human and economic capital (Hargittai and Hinnant, 2008; Hassani, 2006). These are part of a broader body of research that has focused on how social capital may affect digital divide (Chen, 2013; DiMaggio and Cohen, 2003). Literature on this relationship mainly refers to how the digital divide may increase the inequalities in terms of possession of social capital (Pénard and Poussing, 2014; Di Maggio et al., 2004; Katz and Rice, 2003). More specifically, Kvasny (2006), Robinson (2009) and Sims (2014) adapted Bourdieu’s theory to the Internet and new media research.