Core technical support networks in public housing communities : a new perspective on digital inequalities
This dissertation originates and develops the concept of core technical support networks in public housing communities based on the theories and studies of digital inequalities, social capital, social support, and core networks, and provides a new perspective on the research of digital inequalities, especially in disadvantaged communities. Core technical support networks refer to the direct connections that disadvantaged people like public housing residents turn to for assistance with computer and Internet use. This dissertation first examines various characteristics of core technical support networks for public housing residents, including network size, gender and racial/ethnic heterogeneity, gender and racial/ethnic homophily between ego and alters, composition of strong ties and weak ties, and educational levels of alters in their core technical support networks. Second, this dissertation explores how various characteristics of core technical support networks explain and shape digital inequalities at multiple layers and dimensions, including access, skills, usage, and expectation inequalities. Finally, this dissertation examines how social inequalities, general social capital, general social support, and Internet access locations structure various characteristics of core technical support networks. This dissertation draws on a census survey of all the 1,825 households in all 18 public housing communities operated by one of the largest and oldest public housing authorities in the United States. The results show that various characteristics of core technical support networks play significant and positive roles in explaining and shaping public housing residents’ Internet adoption, the presence of basic digital skills, the levels of advanced digital skills, the frequency of conducting capital-enhancing Internet activities, and expectations about the positive changes that digital inclusion programs can bring. When compared with general social capital and general social support, core technical support networks play a much more important role in reducing digital inequalities. The results also show that general social capital, general social support, and using the Internet in public libraries, in public housing community centers, and/or in friends’/family members’ homes significantly contribute to the size of core technical support networks as well as other characteristics of core technical support networks.