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Publications - Abstracts:

Internet Use and the Concentration of Disadvantage: Glocalization and the Urban Underclass


This article argues that the literature on digital inequality—in its focus on individual characteristics, behaviors, and outcomes—has overlooked change within the context of where social and civic inequalities are reproduced. This omission is the result of a failure to explore the role of ecological context within the study of the digital divide and the role of communication within the study of collective efficacy. Social cohesion, and an expectation for informal social control at the neighborhood level, is a function of both ecological context and media context. Those embedded within settings where prior media, including the telephone and face-to-face contact, could not overcome contextual barriers to collective action, namely within areas of concentrated disadvantage; may now, as a result of local Internet use, experience reduced social and civic inequality. This article is based on the results of a 3-year naturalistic experiment that examined the use of the Internet for communication at the neighborhood level. It proposes a new measure of collective efficacy – in place of network measures or perceived cohesion – based on the direct observation of communication practices. The analysis includes a model of the ecological characteristics associated with neighborhoods that adopted the Internet as a means of local information exchange, and it provides a comparison of the content of electronic messages exchanged within areas of advantage and those of extreme poverty, unemployment, and racial segregation. Findings suggest that as much as the Internet supports social and civic engagement in areas where it is already likely to be high, it also affords engagement within contexts of extreme disadvantage.

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