This thesis earned a First Class mark.
‘Social capital’ and ‘the digital divide’ live double lives; in popular media they are buzzwords, and in academia they are debated theoretical constructs. Literature on both of these topics has proliferated from social theorists to The World Bank to new academic research to public policy initiatives to reportage and back again. Digital divide researchers wishing to study the intersections of social capital and internet use find themselves faced with an increasingly muddy field of enquiry. A significant part of this muddiness is the promulgation of ill-defined conceptions of social capital which seem to lack any context-sensitivity. To help clear this up and advance the field of inquiry, this dissertation offers: 1) a redefinition of social capital and 2) a new case study. After a critical evaluation of past literature, social capital is redefined as an individual asset related to normative behaviour, social networking across various communication media, and positive and negative products of localized social interactions. Using a qualitative methodology tailored to relevant fieldwork, individual practices and perceptions of the aspects of social capital and internet use were studied in the rural town of Alston in Cumbria, which enjoys an unusually high level of broadband internet access. The results of this case study are presented as evidence of the need to fundamentally understand community-specific social relations through individuals’ networks and norms. The research supports a thesis of the ‘social shaping of technology’, which explains differentiated adoption and use of the available information and communications technology. In the conclusion, community informatics, a promisingly context-sensitive approach to researching and deploying technologies, is recommended for future study. However, community informatics like any other research and practice approach needs to realize the distinct advantages of a bottom-up method of technology deployment should be complemented by a bottom-up approach to studying contextually-specific phenomena like social capital.