Digital dispositions are determined at home

To get an in-depth view of how social conditions may perpetuate digital inequalities, this study explored the family as a key site within which digital dispositions and motivations are established, and which underpin children and young people’s digital engagement and outcomes. This work contributes to digital divides research by evaluating how familial contexts influence children’s digital access, use and outcomes. It combines socio-demographic data with in-depth interviews, while considering class-based inequalities and distinctions. Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice is used as a framework for exploring how social background, access to economic, social, and cultural resources combined with conditions within the family field, shape children’s digital choices, activities, capabilities, and outcomes. It applies and extends these conceptual tools to get to the heart of social disparities that drive persistent digital divides, and potentially offers new sites for intervention.

Skills and activities lead to very different outcomes, when it comes down to it, individuals vary in their attitudes and decisions as to how they use digital technologies.

The relationship between capabilities and outcomes have been theorised as a ‘ladder of opportunities’ (Livingstone & Helsper, 2007) where children at the bottom can perform basic functions such as email, information seeking or gaming and those at the top have more sophisticated participation in peer-to-peer platforms, generating and sharing content. Variable ‘operational skills’ have been associated to different types of digital technologies accessed by children (Deursen & Dijk, 2014, 2019; van Dijk, 2005). Some studies suggest participation and use may broadly correlate to class factors, as children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are thought to be more likely to take full advantage of social media platforms, becoming ‘produsers’ (Bruns, 2008), while others at the lower end of this socio-economic spectrum are thought less likely to participate, produce or share content (Hargittai & Walejko, 2008). Children from high socio-economic households do tend to have better academic success and digital skills.

An individual’s motivation, personal attributes and learning style have all been cited as possibly contributing to different skill levels. Children with positive attitudes towards using digital technology have been found to have better digital skills , and personal attributes such as personality traits, experiences and achievements may impact the children’s skill levels (Haddon et al., 2020a, p. 39). While researchers have generally prioritised digital skills as a proxy for digital inclusion, for the most part, the relationship between digital skill and outcomes remains muddied by more personal factors.

Additionally, as factors relating to teachers and schools are now thought to have less association with children’s digital skills than personal factors, schools may be playing a secondary role to that of the family in shaping children’s ‘dispositions or inclinations toward technology’ (Meneses & Momino, 2010; Rojas et al., 2004; Seale, Georgeson, Mamas, & Swain, 2015).

Reconceptualising the digital divide: How disposition shapes digital capital and our ability to flourish in the modern world

This study explores the digital disposition of families and how this shapes digital use and its outcomes. More importantly, as daily life is increasingly digitally mediated, we need to explore how well families benefit from using digital technologies. Are children and parents using the online field to meet basic household administrative needs? Do they participating in the digital society? or are they merely spectators. More importantly, we need to ask whether families are motivated to use digital technologies to maintain or enhance financial, social, personal and cultural wellbeing.

To get an in-depth view of how social conditions may perpetuate digital inequalities, this study explored the family as a key site within which digital dispositions and motivations are established, and which underpin children and young people’s digital engagement and outcomes. This work contributes to digital divides research by evaluating how familial contexts influence children’s digital access, use and outcomes. It combines socio-demographic data with in-depth interviews, while considering class-based inequalities and distinctions. Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice is used as a framework for exploring how social background, access to economic, social, and cultural resources combined with conditions within the family field, shape children’s digital choices, activities, capabilities, and outcomes. It applies and extends these conceptual tools to get to the heart of social disparities that drive persistent digital divides, and potentially offers new sites for intervention.

Our habitus is formed by our family upbringing. It shapes our disposition, how we perceive ourselves in the world and influences our sense of entitlement, confidence, expectations. Family is then the key site within which children learn from parents, their place in the world, how to act and respond, much of it unconsciously, affecting their decisions and practices. It underpins our motivation, as well as our purpose  for using digital technology, which we might describe as a 'digital disposition'.

Bourdieu’s central idea is that individuals are shaped by their upbringing, culture, wealth, social connection, location, and experiences all of which constitute an individual’s ‘habitus’. A person’s habitus then, is thought to unconsciously influence whether an individual embraces or rejects opportunities as they move through life, thus playing a role in the reproduction of social inequality. Emerging from both one’s upbringing and experiences within fields such as at home or at school, habitus underpins how individuals perceive themselves within the world, their sense of entitlement, confidence, or expectation of what the world has to offer. The family is the primary site within which children learn from parents, their place in the world, how to act and respond to the world, mostly unconsciously, affecting their decisions and practice. This research explores how habitus affects parents and children’s motivation and use of digital technologies.

We focused on assessing digital outcomes  of family members in terms of their ability to function in the digital context, i.e. what forms of digital capital were valued, sought, accrued.

To  assess how well individuals are capitalising digital technologies, we can think of ‘digital capital’ as a kind of bridging capital that enables individuals to mobilise existing capital in the online space (Ragnedda & Ruiu, 2020). While digital inclusion is often described as simply having access to the internet, or devices, or being able to access opportunities online, not all individuals capitalise equally from such opportunities. Digital capital may be secondary to economic, social, and cultural capital as described by Bourdieu, but having it is integral to functioning in the modern world. Further, certain forms of digital capital have the potential to enable children to overcome social disadvantage. For instance, some digital capital may be more productive than others in terms of improving a young person’s appeal in competitive labour markets (educational achievement) (Ignatow & Robinson, 2017, pp. 953-954), while other forms of digital capital (social media use) may not be as easily transferred into economic or cultural capital. That said, personal and social uses of the internet also bring benefits and while these may be assumed to be of less value economically, they may improve wellbeing, and be transferrable to other forms of capital in unexpected ways. This study follows other studies that attribute value to activities that appear to be ‘capital enhancing’ (Deursen & Dijk, 2014; Ragnedda, 2018; Robinson, 2009; Rojas et al., 2004; van Deursen & Helsper, 2018; van Dijk, 2005) in ways that are likely to bring improvements to life circumstances.

Along with our habitus, our access to capital also determines how we function in the world. Capital can be thought of as both internal (aptitude) and external (resources) resources., which have recognised social value. We explored within families the types of capital both internal and external, and if and how these were leveraged in the digital context.

 

Bourdieu’s conceptualisation of capital refers to both ‘internalized ability and aptitude’ and those rare ‘externalized resources’ that have recognised social value (Ignatow & Robinson, 2017; Park, 2017; Ragnedda & Ruiu, 2020). As such, capital can be viewed as a kind of currency within the field, where individuals attempt to accumulate and monopolize capital following field-specific rules. Capital can also be transferred to improve other forms of capital. For instance, working toward an educational qualification is a form of cultural capital which can be transferred to increase one’s economic capital. This project explores extends Bourdieu’s concepts of social, economic and cultural capital by also examining personal and political capital as defined by Ragnedda and Ruiu (2020).

Economic capital

Offline, economic capital is one’s material wealth, which is accrued through income, inheritance, and is strongly tied to one’s occupation (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 248). Economic capital can dictate the ‘quality’ of internet access. However, neighbours, friends, whanau, schools and workplaces can share subscriptions and gift devices providing access to material resources and support (Murdock, Hartmann, & Gray, 1996, p. 273). Examples of how economic capital could be mobilised online would be the ability to successfully apply for jobs online, or access banking, apply for a loan, access services, networks, or information that maintain or increase  the ability to increase wealth (Ragnedda & Ruiu, 2020).

Social capital

Social capital is described by Bourdieu as the combination of actual and potential resources arising from ‘institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition’ (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 248). This project explored the benefits of collectively owned capital obtained through a family’s social networks, memberships to groups such as family and friends, educational institutions, sports or work settings (Bourdieu, 1997; Selwyn, 2004, p. 354) which give its members greater social status and authority (Selwyn, 2004, p. 354). Parents’ social capital can set the tone for children’s social engagement offline, but online there are expansive opportunities for social networking (DiMaggio et al., 2001). Interviews explored parents and children’s existing social capital as well as their motivation to participate in social networks of formal or informal character online, and enhance their social status in ways that might be transferable to other forms of capital such as economic or cultural capital (Ragnedda & Ruiu, 2020).

Cultural capital

Cultural capital is a representation of class that tends to be invested by a person’s family and transmitted from a person’s domestic environment’ (Sadowski, 2019) being absorbed, sometimes unconsciously, over time and is strongly tied to an individual’s habitus (Selwyn, 2004, p. 353). It captures an individual’s knowledge, skills, tastes and cultural choices. In this light, the family field is an important terrain for equipping children with knowledge and skills to operate in the cultural world. Cultural capital can also be objectified in the form of books, paintings, and other artefacts (increasingly in digital form); or institutionalised within socially recognised artefacts of such as qualifications. Managing online behaviour and identity are important aspects of conveying cultural capital online, as are capabilities to access, verify, and absorb educative information (Selwyn, 2004, p. 353; Tan & Chan, 2018), or to ‘produse’ objects of cultural value within the online context (Bruns, 2008).

A further two capitals which could be considered offshoots of social capital worthy of distinction within the digital context are personal and political capital (Ragnedda & Ruiu, 2020).

Personal capital

The relevance of personal capital is growing as wellness narratives flourish across government and internet and health industry sectors. Neoliberalism obligates individuals in the management of their own mental and physical health, fitness, personal growth and achievement of work life balance. Being aware and motivated to use digital technologies in ways that develop a healthy lifestyle, mental wellbeing, fitness motivation, self-esteem and self-knowledge yields important personal benefits. These maybe things like searching online for health, mental health, motivational, or wellbeing information and services, accessing e-health services, and using wearables technologies, i.e., Fitbit, Apple watches etc.

Political capital

Political capital is involvement in issues and projects of a civil or political nature. The internet through its global informational and communication platforms is thought to empower individuals to participate in matters of a civic or political nature. Offline civil activities could manifest in the digital space as accessing and sharing information, joining debates online, commenting and posting, membership to, and validation from online communities, online activism memberships to organisations or movements, which can be conceptualised as political capital in the online field (Ragnedda & Ruiu, 2020).

The study examined conditions within the family field such as: material resourcing of technology in home, networks of digital support, culture of technology use, rules and restrictions surrounding technology use, position in relation to technology in the home, existing digital knowhow and how members obtain IT knowledge embodied (through one’s own efforts), objectified (through access to techno-cultural goods), or institutionalised forms of ICT learning. We looked at the parental investments made in children, in children’s digital knowhow, and how digital technology featured in children’s extracurricular interests and activities.

Bourdieu’s conceptualisation of capital refers to both ‘internalized ability and aptitude’ and those rare ‘externalized resources’ that have recognised social value (Ignatow & Robinson, 2017; Park, 2017; Ragnedda & Ruiu, 2020). As such, capital can be viewed as a kind of currency within the field, where individuals attempt to accumulate and monopolize capital following field-specific rules. Capital can also be transferred to improve other forms of capital.