Jan 6, 2011

Paper: Technical capital

Zhang, W. (2010). Technical capital and participatory inequality in eDeliberation: An actor-network analysis. Information, Communication & Society, 13(7), 1019-1039.

Intro: Capital is a set of usable resources and powers that function in fields. Bourdieu discussed economic, cultural, symbolic and social capitals, which can transform into one another and from one field to another. This paper argues that with the incorporation of ICTs into the field of politics, technical capital should be added as a form of capital as well.

Technical capital is a structural (i.e., independent of the consciousness and will of agents and constitutive of fields) relation between technologies and other actors. Accumulation of technical capital happens through the establishment and maintenance of the relations with technologies.

Data: surveys from two cases - the Electronic Dialogue 2000 and the Healthcare Dialogue projects. Both projects consisted of groups of citizens who engaged in a series of moderated chats about 2000 US presidential campaign and about the country's healthcare reform.

Analysis: Mean comparisons, OLS regressions, qualitative content analysis of open-ended questions.

Results: SES variables (education, age, income, gender) have impact on participation. Inventory of actors includes funders, designers, moderators, participants, internet, chatroom, time. Inventory of capitals included economic, social, cultural, symbolic, technical. Technical capital contributed to inequalities according to the surveys. E.g., people were unable to access a computer, had technical failures, had no means to repair their computers, etc.
Conclusion: Disadvantaged groups have more difficulties in establishing and maintaining a relationship with the technologies. They are also less successful in converting other capitals into the technical capital in need.

My opinion: The idea of technical capital is interesting and theoretically fruitful. Some ANT ideas also seem to be interesting, but they were not elaborated in the paper. The empirical part is rather obvious, but still important considering the enthusiasm regarding participatory potential of digital media.