Digital inclusion and techno-capital in Austin, Texas
McConnell, Christopher Lee
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Concerns about the ability of marginalized groups to use the Internet in a meaningful way have factored in discussions of the social impact of the Internet and technology policy since the 1990s. Although mainstream policy has emphasized the costs of using the Internet, such as hardware and Internet service, additional barriers to meaningful use persist. These barriers can include language, familiarity with computer systems, a lack of social support, and limited knowledge of services available online. Although these higher-level and cultural barriers have been framed in terms of skills or literacies, this study situates its results and analysis in Bourdieu’s notions of field, habitus, and multiple forms of capital, specifically extending the notion of capital to the technology field with the concept of techno-capital. By using Bourdieu’s conceptual framework, this study endeavors to situate Internet use in its broader social context, arguing that inequalities in Internet use are the product of deep inequalities in social power, which extend to access to education, government services, and information. This project explores how a richer theory of social inequality, based on Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, field, and multiple forms of capital can be used to frame a secondary data analysis of a survey conducted by a local government. Based on data collected by the City of Austin in 2010, it first provides an overview of differences in Internet connections and use among segments of society before moving on to more complex analyses related to techno-capital. In particular, it examines the relationship between the social contexts of use and the ability to make meaningful use of the Internet, finding that techno-capital is linked with access at institutional sites such as work and school. The study then turns to comparing techno-capital between demographic groups, by users of specific technologies, and by use in social contexts. It finally uses multivariate analysis to identify which factors may be most critical in developing techno-capital. Broader social factors such as institutional use and educational attainment appear to have more power nurturing techno-capital than availability of an Internet connection, questioning dominant assumptions about digital inclusion.