Digital capital and online activities: An empirical analysis of the second level of digital divide

Ruiu Maria Laura and Ragnedda Massimo (2020), Digital capital and online activities: An empirical analysis of the second level of digital divide, First Monday, 25(7) DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v25i7.10855

Abstract: This paper explores inequalities in using the Internet by investigating several digital activities that require different levels of digital capital. Data collected in the U.K. through an online survey of a national representative sample (868 respondents) shows that levels of digital capital and type and quality of online activities are intertwined. The analysis shows that digital capital, conceived and measured as a specific capital, is entangled with the frequency/intensity of social, economic/financial means, ordinary/daily entertainment, and political activities, but not with learning-related activities. This work contributes to the literature in both empirical and theoretical terms by testing the reliability of digital capital and expanding its use to investigate digital inequalities. From a policy-making point of view, the awareness of citizens’ level of digital capital may help tailor initiatives to support citizens in using ICTs on a wide array of fields, such as job seeking, sociability, savings, familial relationships, and several online activities. Finally, this paper highlights that digital inequalities cannot be tackled by considering access and competence separately. By contrast, the adoption of measures that synthesise the two dimensions might help simplify policy-making’s initiatives to tackle digital inequalities.


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Keynote Talk at the Foundation University of Islamabad: a few takeaways

It has been a great pleasure to be invited by the Foundation University of Islamabad to give a keynote talk (albeit virtual) about Digital Divide. The event has been moderated and coordinated by Dr. Sadia Jamil (Khalifa University) and Dr Shabbir Hussain (Bharia University, Islamabad) introduced the phenomenon of Digital Divide in Pakistan. It was pleasure see participants from Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

In my talk, I emphasised how access to, and use of ICT is a new civil right: an essential necessity to be a full citizen. In fact, an insufficient and unequal access to the Internet can create new forms of social segregation that exacerbate already existing social inequalities. In a digital-reliant society being excluded from the digital realm means missing opportunities to improve one’s quality of life.

Throughout my talk I underlined several times how the advent of ICTs have granted many privileges to their users, but have also given rise to complex forms of exclusion affecting those already marginalized. We focused on the obstacles that prevent certain social groups from accessing and properly using technologies. This limited access and use of ICTs is defined as the “Digital Divide”. The metaphor of the digital divide suggested a division between two dichotomous groups that can be clearly determined. However, it is possible to observe different degrees of e-inclusion and use of ICTs.

For this reason, I focused on the three levels of Digital Divide, namely i) Inequalities in Accessing ICTs; ii) Inequalities in Usages and iii) Inequalities in Outcomes of Internet Access and Uses.

I concluded by emphasizing that accessing the internet, alone, is simply not enough to be digitally included. It is also necessary to have the capacity to create, successfully navigate, understand online content and use ICTs to improve their life chances.

Citizens need the ability to utilize digital infrastructure and not simply to access it.

Exploring Digital Inequalities in Russia: an interregional comparative analysis

Gladkova, Anna & Ragnedda, Massimo (2020), Exploring Digital Inequalities in Russia: an interregional comparative analysis, Online Information Review, DOI (10.1108/OIR-04-2019-0121)

Abstract: This paper contributes to the literature by proposing an analysis of digital inequalities in Russia that focuses on two aspects hitherto under explored: the inter-regionality (by comparing and contrasting eight federal districts) and the multidimensionality of digital inequalities (by taking into account the three levels of digital divide). Therefore, the aim is to address the phenomenon of digital divide in Russia by discussing the three levels of the digital divide (access / skills / benefits) in a comparative and interregional perspective.

This paper uses secondary data for its analysis, including both national (e.g. the total number of daily Internet users in Russia) and more regionalized data (related to particular federal districts of Russia). The choice of data sources was determined by an attempt to provide a detailed and multifaceted coverage of all three levels of the digital divide in Russia, which is not limited to the access problem only. For this purpose, we are using and re-elaborating various reports about the development of the Internet and ICTs in Russia prepared by national and international organizations to cover the first level of the digital divide. To shed light upon the second and third levels of the digital divide, we discuss digital literacy report (2018), the report on Internet openness index of Russian regions (2017), and the report on the digital life index of the Russian regions (2016). Finally, in the attempt to map out the key directions of the state policy aimed at decreasing digital inequality in Russia, on both federal and regional levels, we analyze the most important regional and national policy measures to foster digitalization such as the Digital Russia program, the Digital Government program, the Program of Eliminating Digital Inequality in Russia.

We consider this study to be both a first exploration and a baseline of the three level digital divides in Russia. The paper shows how the level of socioeconomic development of the federal districts, as well as a number of objective factors (distance/isolation, urbanization level, availability of infrastructure and costs for building new infrastructure, etc.) have impact upon digitalization of the regions. As a result, several federal districts of Russia (Central, Northwestern, and, in a number of cases, Ural and Volga federal districts) more often than others take leading positions in rankings, in terms of degree of Internet penetration, audience numbers, use of e-services, etc. This correlation however is not universal as we will show, and some regions lacking behind in terms of access can be booming in terms of digital literacy or other factors, like it happened with Far Eastern federal district for example. All in all, our research showed that digital inequality in Russia is still on place and will require more time for complete elimination, even though current state and public initiatives are being actively developed.

This paper will bring to light meaningful insights into the three levels of digital divides in Russia. Based on a multilevel (three levels of digital divide) and multi-sectional approach (the interplay of different types of inequalities), this paper contributed to overall better understanding of the digital inequalities phenomenon in Russia. It also allowed for a comparative interregional perspective, which has been missing in most papers on digital inequalities in Russia so far.

Read the Author Accepted Manuscript

The evolving digital divide: from the first to the third level

emeraldIn this blog written for the Real Impact blog @massimoragnedda  and @marialauraruiu  discuss the inequalities in accessing and using technology

The rise of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) was seen at the beginning as an opportunity for freedom of information, and to level up existing inequalities (Rheingold, 1993; Negroponte, 1995). However, scholars realized soon that access to ICTs would give an advantage to specific citizens/users (Resnick, 1998; Hargittai, 2000). The term “digital divide” emerged to describe inequalities in access to the technologies of the information society. At the early stage of research on the digital divide, access to the Internet and ownership of ICTs was seen both by scholars and by policy makers as the most crucial factor. The possibilities for an individual to access and use the Internet are at the base of the first level of digital divide.

Moving beyond access….

Nevertheless, access to the Internet alone cannot determine how much value users gain from the Internet and, therefore, this dichotomy of “haves” and “have nots” is ineffective to describe a phenomenon that is no longer based only on the possession of technology or simple access to it. After the fading of the initial euphoria surrounding the rise of ICTs, it become clear that users with more information skills, more resources, and more social and economic capital would gain greater advantages than others. These digital inequalities opened up new dimensions of social segmentation, interwoven with traditional cultural and social inequalities and potentially reinforcing them. Digital divide started to be seen as a phenomenon relating to complex issues that involve all aspects of community life, in economic, political, cultural and social arenas.

We have moved from the first level of digital divide (mainly based on access to the Internet) to a more sophisticated and multidimensional second level (based on the disparities in computer and Internet use). Skills, competence and abilities to use the Internet have become more important than even. Not only the material access to the Internet is taken into consideration, but also the different uses of it. Recently a new approach defined as the third level of digital divide emerged (Ragnedda 2017). It focuses on the social and cultural benefits deriving from accessing and using the Internet. It analyses the offline returns of accessing and using digital technologies, attempting to understand who gains the most advantage from the Internet (van Deursen and Helsper 2015).

How do we close the divide?

Accessing and properly using ICTs constitutes a new civic right. Narrowing the uneven distribution in the access to, use of, or impact of ICTs between individuals, must be ranked as one of the top human rights priority. The possibilities that the Internet offers to citizens in economic, political, social and cultural areas are not exploited by everybody in the same way. The Internet influences possibilities for citizens to improve their life chances, but in a vicious circle, based on their original social position. In other terms, social strata that already enjoy social advantages become further privileged by using the Internet.

The different uses we make of the Internet lead to completely different roles of the network in people’s lives. Socio-economic and cultural backgrounds affect the access to and the use of the Internet (first and second level) and that this online experience influences people’s life chances and the opportunities they have in the offline world (third level). Digital inequalities, therefore, tend not only to reinforce social inequalities already existing in the offline society, but also to enlarge the gap between the less advantaged and the most advantaged individuals. Social strata that in the social realm tend to obtain more valuable resources are the same that tend to exploit ICTs most advantageously.

Massimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu examine how digital capital can be defined, measured and impact policy in their recently published book Digital Capital: A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide. Find out more here.

Digital divide and digital capital in multiethnic Russian society

MulticulturalGladkova, A., Vartanova, E., Ragnedda, M. (2020), Digital divide and digital capital in multiethnic Russian society, Journal of Multicultural Discourses, https://doi.org/10.1080/17447143.2020.1745212

Abstract: The paper draws linkages between ethnic diversity of the eight federal districts of Russia and their technological development (access and use of ICTs, digital literacy, etc.). We show that although there is no universal correlation between ethnic composition of the regions and the level of their technological advancement, regions where Russians constitute the majority (i.e. Central and Northwestern) more often tend to be the country’s leaders in terms of technological development. Following up on this, we use purposive sample of 398 Internet users based in Russia, showing how the level of digital capital of users varies depending on their ethnicity (here we will distinguish between two large groups – Russians and non-Russians, based on self-identification of survey participants) and their place of living. Results of the digital capital study, despite being indicative, show that those belonging to the ethnic majority (in our case Russians) and those living in big cities tend to have a higher level of digital capital.

We argue that although ethnicity solely does not define the level of users’ digital capital, it is still an important and understudied issue. This is particularly true for big multiethnic societies, such as the Russian society, where digital divide across various groups and regions remains a serious problem.

Digital Capital. A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide

cover book digital capitalMassimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu (2020), Digital Capital. A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide, Emerald Publishing

Description

Starting from the assumption that digital capital is a capital in its own right, and can be quantified and measured as such, the authors of this book examine how digital capital can be defined, measured and impact policy.

Using the Bourdieusian lens, this book makes a critical contribution to the field by examining in depth the notion of digital capital and by introducing a new theoretical toolkit in order to fully conceptualise it. Against this theoretical background, the authors propose a set of indicators that can be used to measure digital capital at an individual level. Ultimately, readers will learn how this can be used by policy makers to tackle social inequalities which are based on the digital exclusion of citizens.

Reviews

As digital communications becomes ever more central to everyday life, work and leisure, their impact on inequality becomes increasingly profound. Is there a new ‘digital capital’ acquired by those who gain most from these technologies? The authors, established experts in this field, address this problem with a thorough and informed analysis of the concept, and its implications for policy and understanding.’

– Peter Golding, Professor, Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, UK

Continue reading “Digital Capital. A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide”

External examiner for a Ph.D. defence in Madrid

complutense tribunalThe 28th of October 2019, I acted as external examiner for a Ph.D. dissertation at the Facultad de Ciencias Politicas y Sociología de la Universidad Complutense, Madrid (Spain). The candidate, Daniel Calderón Gómez, brilliantly defended a thesis titled “Capital digital y socialización tecnológica: una aproximación bourdiana al estudio de la desigualdad digital y la estratificación social entre la juventud“. The candidate analysed youngsters’ variety of digital practices and forms of technological exploitation, in connection to their biographical trajectories of technological socialization, by using the constructivist structuralism of Pierre Bourdieu. The dissertation tries to unravel the role that younger generations play in information society, aiming at the dismantling of the cyber-utopian perspectives that glorify natural affinity between youth and digital world –by means of concepts such as digital natives or digital generations–.

Keynote Talk: Moscow Reading 2019

keynoteIn my Kenyote talk at the 11th edition of the Moscow Reading Conference 2019, held at the Faculty of Journalism, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, I both focused on the conceptualization and operationalization of Digital Capital. I stressed how Digital Capital should not be perceived as a subset of other capitals, but should be conceptualized as a specific capital. Furthermore, I presented our empirical model and how we operationalized and measured digital capital. Finally, I explained how this model could be replicated in different socio-cultural contexts.

Measuring Digital Capital: An empirical investigation

nms-cover-socialMassimo Ragnedda, Maria Laura Ruiu, and Felice Addeo (2019). Measuring Digital Capital: An empirical investigation. New Media and Society. 1-24.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444819869604

Abstract

This article develops a Digital Capital Index by adopting the definition provided by Ragnedda, who defines Digital Capital as the accumulation of digital competencies and digital technologies, and the model for measuring it developed by Ragnedda and Ruiu. It aims to develop a measure that can be replicated for comparison in different contexts. This article contributes both theoretically and empirically to the literature by (a) consolidating the concept of Digital Capital as a specific capital and (b) empirically measuring it. A Digital Capital Index is developed through an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and validated with a representative sample survey of 868 UK citizens. The validation procedure shows that the Digital Capital Index is associated with socioeconomic and sociodemographic patterns, such as age, income, educational level and place of residence, while it appears not to be related to gender.

Introduction

This article develops a Digital Capital Index (DCI) by adopting a definition of Digital Capital as ‘“a set of internalised abilities and aptitudes” (digital competencies) as well as “externalised resources” (digital technology) that can be historically accumulated and transferred from one arena to another’ (Ragnedda, 2018). This definition conceptualises Digital Capital as a specific capital (though intertwined with other capitals). Moving on from this conceptualisation, Ragnedda and Ruiu (2019) proposed some indicators to measure Digital Capital. However, this model construct has hitherto never been tested. This article fills this gap in the literature by exploring the empirical application of these indicators which were developed only at a theoretical level.

Continue reading “Measuring Digital Capital: An empirical investigation”

Keynote talk: The Digital Capital Index: monitoring citizens’ digital inclusion

EDtA_ItXsAIQYZdIt has been a real pleasure to give a keynote talk on Digital Capital and Digital Inclusion at the “One day colloquium on Digital Inclusion” in Brussels,  the 5th of September 2019. The event has been organized by IDEALiC, a 4-year project funded under the research program BRAIN-BE of the Federal Science Policy (2015-2019). In my keynote speech I focused on the Digital Capital Index and how it can be used, by policy makers, charities and foundations, to address digital inclusiveness and promote digital rights. The “One day Colloquium” was devoted to the presentation of the results of the project carried out over the past 4 years by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Université Catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain) and the Fondation Travail-Université (FTU) and has been financed by BELSPO. The discussion on this theme was enriched by the experiences of field actors from the three regions and by the contributions of work carried out in other European countries.