Jen Schradie, a grad student at Berkeley Sociology, has just published an article on the digital divide in user-production on the internet. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2011.02.003
It enters the digital democracy debate not along the lines we’ve been accessing it (democratic participation vs. exploitation) but in terms of inclusion (democratic participation vs. unequal access/exclusion). She comes down on the exclusion side suggesting that even for those already online there is an extra class gap between those who use the internet for consumption and those who use it for productive activities. She links this to class inequality in two basic factors, control of internet tools (having a good connection at home and a bunch of gadgets) and endowment with a “Internet-in-practice and high-status information habitus” (to coin a phrase). She demonstrates this with data from a large Pew internet use survey.
The overall results aren’t that surprising, and I won’t get into the details very far. There were a couple of curious things; for example, the racial inequality picture is complex or maybe muddled–whites are more likely than other groups to post pictures and videos but less likely to have websites and blogs (actually differences are only significant for whites vs. blacks). Hispanics are more likely than nonhispanics to have websites and post videos. Etc.
Anyway, there are a couple things that might be valuable to us. One is the dataset and analysis that might give us some background information on the demographics of participation as we move forward.
Another thing is that this study, and most like it, pitch the debate at the individual level–the “public” as an inchoate mass of individuals. We’re interested in organized publics but most of the literature is implicitly concerned with THE disorganized public (in the singular).
So here’s at least one question in our different approach. Are the OPs we’re considering all already selecting from the productive, or prosumptive, “elite”? Does everyone already have the “information habitus”? Or do OPs ever draw people from the less “elite”, more ostensibly “passive”, segments of the internet population? Do OPs ever inculcate habitus in participants? Are there differences of habitus in different FSE/OP combinations or is it all just people who are “facile at doing crap on the internet” (to coin a phrase)?