“Opportunity for all requires something else today - having access to a computer and knowing how to use it. This means we must close the digital divide between those who have got the tools and those who have not.”
President Clinton, State of The Union Address 2000
It is not a coincidence, though, that digital divide separates the groups already unequal. Hargittai (2003) defines "Digital divide" as an unequal "access to and use of the medium" where women, racial and ethnic minorities, low income, low education, and rural residents have lower level of "connectivity" to the Internet (p.823). The disadvantaged groups include people of low socio-economic status, low literacy levels, unemployed, people with disabilities, singe parents, and young girls (WikiBooks.)
As I was working on this assignment, I saw a parallel between digital divide and forms of "capitals" defined by Bourdieu: "cultural", "social", "symbolic", and "economic" (2006).
Before Bourdieu, Marx defined “capital” as “part of the surplus value” collected by capitalists who “control production means in the circulation of commodities and monies between the production and consumption processes” (Lin 28). Lin also identified two related, yet different, elements of capital: 1) It is “part of the surplus value” (29) and 2) it is an “investment”, by which the “surplus value” is multiplied and collected (29). By producing and investing more capital, one would expect to constantly multiply it and gain even more capital (29).
Lin relates Marx’s concept of capital to Bourdieu’s theory of capitals (cultural, social, and symbolic), where Bourdieu’s cultural capital “represents investments…in reproducing a set of symbols and meanings” (29). In other words, by investing in education and accumulating knowledge, one can then expect this knowledge to be converted into symbolic capital, such as a prestigious position, which, in turn, will provide the individual with economic capital (money). As Marx’s defined the bourgeoisie’s goal to multiply capital, Bourdieu’s theory also stated that individuals as well as groups “strive to accumulate capital (cultural, symbolic, and social) over time as potential capacity to produce benefits or to reproduce capital” (Meinert 12).
Cultural Capital is “one of the most important tools in Bourdieu’s intellectual arsenal” (Kustaryov, 3) which is not as easy to identify as, for example, economic capital, which can be referred to as money and wealth (3). However, according to Dumais, along with money and possessions, cultural capital “serves as a power resource” (46), and can be identified as, for example, “educational credentials” (46). In other words, the amount of cultural capital an individual possesses will unavoidably affect his/her belonging to a certain social group, for instance, well educated vs. uneducated, where uneducated (“poor” in terms of cultural capital) will more than likely be at the bottom of a social hierarchy.
Social Capital characterizes “relational power”, which is a certain amount of “useful” relations in terms of culture, economy, or politics possessed by an individual (Moi (1025) or the extent, to which an individual can benefit culturally, economically, or politically, from such relations (1025). Social capital can be defined as “investment in social relation with expected returns” (Lin, 30), or simply people interact among themselves and establish long term relationships in order to “produce profits” (31).
Symbolic Capital. Regarding symbolic capital, Mahar et al., acknowledge that Bourdieu identified “symbolic” as “material but not recognized as being such (dress sense, a good accent, ‘style’) and which derives its efficacy not simply from its materiality but from this very misrecognition” (5). Thus, for instance, having a good style or the “right” accent would be taken for granted by its owner; meanwhile, it will be considered by others as an advantage or benefit of this person and thus will place this person higher than others. Further, Mahar et al. referred to symbolic capital as “prestige, status, and authority” (13). Wikipedia states that Bourdieu viewed symbolic capital as “a crucial source of power” (3),
Based on Bourdue's theory of capitals, it seemed only reasonable to identify "access to information technology" as "digital capital", which then can be transformed into cultural and economic capitals, i.e., information, a job or position, and a higher income.
Yet, the question remains: What can help the educators and policy makers bridge the gap in digital divide? Will "a computer to everyone" solve the problem, or will we need a different, yet more complex approach?
According to Selwyn, Gorard, et al., (2001) a mere access to or availability of technology (computers) won’t bridge the divide. They discuss three obstacles to lifelong learning, which, in turn, place a vital role in education, personal development, social status, employment, etc. Those three obstacles are: “situational, institutional, and dispositional” (p. 264.)
1. Situational - refers to lifestyle;
2. Institutional - refers to available opportunities;
3. Dispositional (personal knowledge and motivation) (p.264.)
The “dispositional” barrier is the underlying factor in the divide. That is, without personal knowledge and, particularly, motivation, just an access to a computer (institutional solution of the problem) will not solve the problem.
To conclude, while "digital divide" and "digital inequality" exist and, no doubt, play a key role in accumulating by individuals such capitals as "social, cultural, and economic", according to Bourdieu’s theory of capitals; a mere access to a computer connected to the Internet should not be viewed as a solution to the problem. Other factors, such as personal motivation, should be included into the equation. This issue will be analysed more closely in our upcoming group project on "Digital Divide."
Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Forms of Capital”. 20 Sept 2006. Retrieved from:
Bourdieu. The Practice of Theory. New York: St. Martin’s press, 1990.
DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2004). From unequal access to differentiated use: A literature review and agenda for research on digital inequality. Social Inequality, 355-400. Retrieved from http://www.eszter.com/research/pubs/dimaggio-etal-digitalinequality.pdf
Dumais, Susan. “Cultural Capital, Gender, and School Success: The Role of Habitus”. Sociology of Education 75.1 (2002): 44-68.
Emerging Learning Technologies/Digital Divide (Wikibooks) http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/W...tal_Divide
Hargittai, E. (2003). The digital divide and what to do about it. New Economy Handbook, 821-839.
Kustaryov, Alexander. Pierre Bourdieu. A Lifelong Struggle With the Agents of Ignorance”. New Times. 2006. 13 Nov 2006..
Lin, Nan. “Building a Network Theory of Social Capital”. Connections 22.1 (1999):28-51.
Mahar, Cheleen, Harker, Richard, and Wilkes, Chris. An Introduction to the Work of Pierre
Meinert, Lotte. “Resources For Health in Uganda: Bourdieu’s Concepts of Capital and Habitus.”
Moi, Toril. “Appropriating Bourdieu”. New Literary History. 1991.
Pierre Bourdieu”. Wikipedia. 20 Sept 2006. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Bourdieu.
Selwyn, Neil, Gorard, Stephen, and Williams, Sara. Digital Divide or digital opportunity? The Role of technology in Overcoming Social Exclusion in U.S. Education.
retrieved from: http://abrill.wiki.usfca.edu/file/view/Divide+or+Opportunity.pdf