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date: 01 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on a central and enduring issue in digital studies: digital inequalities, exclusion, or divides, with their changing emphases on access, use, skills, and positive and negative outcomes. However, it extends that literature by looking at how patterns of digital media access, skills, uses, and practices are related to overall systems of social inequality and distinction—that is, social class. Thus, how does social class influence digital inequalities, and, in turn, how do digital technologies mediate access to other social and community realms? Seven outcomes of digital inequalities stand out: material implications for people’s lives; growth of “digital by default” and “digital only” service delivery; centrality of digital to education; centrality of digital tow work; growth in digital culture and leisure; workplace automation and the digital economy; and fairness. The chapter examines key concepts such as social capital, cultural capital (embodied, objectified, institutionalized), habitus, fields of social exclusion, and doxa (Bourdieu; Helsper; Putnam). The chapter critiques the notions of “digital capital” or “information capital” as distinct forms of capital, instead arguing that digital has become crucial to, economic, cultural, and social capital in contemporary society. Results from analyses of national UK data show how eight categories of new media use (associated with digital aspects of habitus) are significantly associated with age, different economic or social classes, different network patterns reflecting social capital, and with different patterns of cultural consumption. Thus differential use of new media by different categories and social classes of users can lead to differential access to skills, resources, and opportunities in society. These inequalities lead to different educational and life opportunities that have the potential to underpin long-term variations in outcomes.

Keywords: digital capital, digital inequalities, information capital, new media, social capital, social class, social inequality

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