For most people in Sweden access to the internet can be taken for granted today, much in the same way as access to water and electricity. However, there are still parts of the population, not only among the elderly, for whom internet access might be a scarce resource and therefore also a source of struggle. This paper focuses on one such group, namely economically deprived families with children. More specifically, it presents the rationales and early results of an ongoing media ethnographic study on the various meanings attributed to digital media by the members of such households (both parents and children), focusing especially on the concerns, conflicts and strategies associated with the limitations surrounding their acquisition of digital media devices as well as their internet access and use, within an everyday context of economic deprivation.
Even though previous research on digital divides has convincingly shown them to be irreducible to a generational problem that will disappear by itself over time – for example, class-related variables such as educational level, occupation and income also matter – relatively little is known about their occurrences within the so-called “digital generation”, especially in Sweden. More generally, large-scale surveys have successfully evidenced and mapped the empirical patterns of digital divides among young people, but we still have limited knowledge about the contextually embedded generative mechanisms through which these patterns emerge. Even less attention has been paid to the ways in which young people at the margins of network society, along with their parents, actually experience and deal with their potentially limited internet access in everyday life.
Against this backdrop, this paper deals with the fundamental question of what it feels like raising children and growing up under conditions of scarce economic resources and potentially limited internet access in a highly wired society generally associated with social equality. What does it feel like not being able to give your children equal technological opportunities as their friends (or having to make huge sacrifices in order to secure such opportunities)? How do the potential experiences of feeling different and digitally excluded matter for the children’s well-being? And how are the potential conflicts stemming from the scarcity of (digital) resources affecting family life? Adopting a non-media-centric approach built around Bourdieusian social theory and insights from domestication research, the paper thus sets out to explore not only the meanings and uses of digital media in the particular context of economically deprived families with children in Sweden, but also the subjective and emotional dimensions of economic vulnerability and social class in today’s network society.
Prague: Czech-In , 2016. 21-21 p.
6th European Communication Conference (ECC) "Mediated (Dis)Continuities: Contesting Pasts, Presents and Futures", Prague, Czech Republic, November 9-12, 2016