Oscar.howell/Social Capital and Digital Citizenship

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  • I selected the form of a wiki page to allow contributions from the group. Please feel free to edit the content. Oscar 06:52, 13 March 2008 (EDT)

Elevator Pitch and H2O Playlist

Widespread availability of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have made possible that citizens become economically active in collaborative and peer production networks, and develop new forms of Social Capital. ICTs also may strongly exclude a large group of citizens who are not computer literate or don’t have access to technology. The exclusion happens not only in developing countries.

In this regard it is interesting to explore if access to ICTs should be regulated by government to ensure equal opportunity. Should a Digital Citizenship be regarded as the ability to participate in the new non-market processes and assets? Related to this issue, I would propose to review the positive effects of the development of Social Capital using ICTs and the negative effects of exclusion. This should give us an idea of the desirability of regulation by governments.

Definition of Social Capital (SC)

Introduction to Social Capital: The idea of sharing is central to Social Capital. Sharing and the methods of obtaining value from the shared objects are part of how we understand a Commons, a commonly held good. We don’t share just because we want to give something away. We share and we expect something in return. As it is in every social and economic transaction. Behind this process is the ethic principle of reciprocal behavior.

Reciprocal behavior has a distinct social value, apart from any normative value. In the case of the Wikipedia or del.icio.us one obtains the right to make use of the common knowledge and effort of the whole community.

In the case of Facebook and other social networking sites it is the value of the network itself, of the “weak ties” that lie behind much of the economical possibilities. How much does it cost to build up Social Capital? It is an important cost (time, effort, transaction, sharing). The Internet can lower this cost significantly (see Shirky, Here Comes Everybody). Nevertheless, the fact that it is a form of capital remains.

  • Huysman and Wulf define Social Capital as “a network of ties of goodwill, mutual support, shared language, shared norms, social trust, and a sense of mutual obligation that people can derive value from” and further say that “communities will foster social capital, thereby increasing people’s motivation to share knowledge” (Social Capital and Information Technology, 2004)

Traditions and ideas in Social Capital

  • Marxist Tradition (see: Pierre Bourdieu): sees Social Capital as accumulated and potential labor units. This accumulation is pivotal in shaping social relations and leads to separation and class struggle. In this tradition exists the figure of the capitalist that accumulates the social capital in his own pecuniary benefit (in the form of bondage and contracts, and relationships)
  • Communitarian Tradition (see: Robert Putnam): this distinctly American tradition sees social capital as the shared effort of a community for the public good. The emphasis is on collective work and on civic engagement. It is a socially normative and utopian view that is heir to the Calvinist tradition of “communities of work” and the covenant. This tradition is the support for much of thinking behind the social network and its collective good.
  • Ethical Proposal (see: Francis Fukuyama): Centers on the social values that make up the glue of the community. Puts emphasis the ethical and trust aspects of social capital above class and community.

Social Capital and the Internet.

There are several instances on the Internet where the formation of networks of people with “weak ties” (as opposed to “strong” or “family ties”), enable them to leverage the social value of the network to achieve some economic, civic or political result. The main characteristic of these examples is that the accumulated social capital of the clusters enable the performance activities that would otherwise be too costly to perform in an organization (in the sense of Coase) or a traditional market system.

Definition of Digital Citizenship (DC)

The concept that gives form to the idea of citizenship is that of participation. A citizen of a community has the right and the civic ability to participate in every aspect of the community or nation she is a citizen of. The person that is a citizen is expected to take a part in the res publica, the public affairs of the state: its management, political norms and defense. The citizen is also expected to take part in the process of formation of public reason and justice. A citizen is more than just an individual person, it is the idea of the political and public person.

The citizen enjoys the protection and benefits of the state. The individual person surrenders a series of rights to the state in order to become a citizen, in exchange for protection and social acceptance.

In a democratic form of government the idea of citizenship is closely linked to the concepts of equality and opportunity.

When we speak of Digital Citizenship we mean the possibility of the person to take part in the digital society, with the same implications as the foregoing concept of citizenship, including security and equality.

Digital Citizenship has also an international and global perspective. The online society is part of a global network, and the space of influence of the digital citizen is seen as global in reach too.

Traditions in Citizenship and Participation

  • Liberalism: The equality of opportunity. Society must guarantee that every citizen has equal opportunities to realize its potential. Under circumstances government regulation and intervention is needed to counter the inequalities of distribution. It is an economic proposal, and is possible that it does not aim to attain political equality (a form of exclusion)

  • Republicanism: The public good. The citizen must be endowed with the elements, like education and economic means, to work towards the public good. In some cases can be an elitist position. The aim of the government is to ensure the democratic citizenship and the participation, with the public good as guiding principle. Equality of economic opportunity is secondary (also a form of exclusion)

  • Ascriptive Hierarchy: The class society. The rights to participate and the opportunities are based on class or racial memberships. Under this idea the most cases of exclusion are found. The person is in some cases denied the right of citizenship on grounds of social ascription.

The intersection of SC and DC

  • Participation. The use of ICT opens new possibilities for persons and groups to develop SC, with new ways for them to participate socially, economically and politically. The creation of SC means better opportunities for income and development. It also means new ways to express oneself artistically. SC and ICT enable collective civic action that has a growing political meaning.
  • Equality. The political sphere recognizes the growing influence of SC and the formation of clusters online. This means that a form of DC has to be created and regulated. DC means rights and responsibilities. And it means some form of government regulation. The aim of DC has to be to ensure equality of opportunity and civic liberties. But it also means regulation of identity online and the free expression of political rights. When we are faced with “emergent democracy” that happens online, the political sphere and government are involved.
  • Exclusion. In the special case of exclusion, a solution must be found to the new forms of exclusion from DC and SC. The fact that a large percentage of the population has a low level of literacy, and a lower still level of computer literacy, creates a situation in which a group of persons will be excluded from opportunity and political action. The internet could be considered a Commons, a public good. A democratic government should enact regulations that ensure that the majority of the population can become an active Digital Citizen. This would mean to regulate and promote access, identity, security, borders and education.
  • Emergent Democracy. A new form of direct democratic system, instead of representative democracy, may result from the intersection of SC and DC. Where groups have accumulated SC (have invested in, "clustered"), they will be interested in exercising political rights trough DC to protect, establish property rights and make use of SC ("coping"). The widespread use of ICT to exercise political rights may lead to a form of direct democratic system, an “emergent democracy” (Johnson, Ito) or “electronic agora” (Rheingold). The Digital Citizen participates directly in the management of public affairs and the forming of public reason.

The Issues of Government Regulation

  • Education - Educación y Exclusión
    • The government should ensure the digital citizen´s equal access and opportunity to education
    • Technology education should be included in the program of every school

  • Property - Creative Commons
    • The regulation of property online, and copyrights is key to the use of the internet
    • This is a global issue

  • Security and Policing - Web Security Context Working Group
    • Identity theft, SPAM, Malware - Should the state police the internet?
    • Is the Digital Citizen interested in security online?
    • A new way to make identification on the Internet is necessary to participation and freedom of speech
    • Should local governments enact separate regulations or should an international proposal be alloewd to emerge?

  • Globalization, the international digital citizen?
    • Is the Internet borderless?
    • Can Social Capital be exported or converted into global goods?

Inclusion and Exclusion, Law, Economics and... Politics (links)

(1) Inclusion

(2) Exclusion

(3) Law

(4) Economics

(5) Politics

Some Additional References