Pilot study on experiences of digital citizenship when socially marginalized

In December 2015, Gitte Bang Stald and Mette Grønbæk Rasmussen, conducted a pilot study on digital citizenship within socially marginalized groups. The aim of the study was to explore how we can study marginalization and vulnerability in relation to digital society. We interviewed three persons with experiences of homelessness and two inmates in a closed prison facility. Exploring the consequences of the “digital divide”, the study went further into how marginalization and restricted access to ICT affects the experience of citizenship in the digital age. Therefore, the interviews focussed on everyday life and the challenges when using digital media. Not surprisingly, the interviews show that life is very different for all informants, which is reflected their media use and their experiences of citizenship and exclusion.

The pilot study showed that the recent 20 years of development in ICT has neither reached the streets nor reached the inside of the closed prisons. For people with no permanent residence, personal communication and information are restricted by the lack of power supply (“if only smartphones used AA batteries”), which means, that the most practical means of communication is non-smart mobile-phones (long-lasting battery) and FM radio (entertaining AND uses AA batteries). For people living under long-term incarceration, communication is shaped by institutionalization and the problem of security. Contact with people and institutions outside the wall is therefore limited to face-to face visits, snail mail and land-line phonecalls (from one of the phonebooth in a common area). Online PC access is possible for short periods of time in the educational facilities, however only through the secured PC network that has been developed exclusively for the Danish prison system. Within Danish prisons all access to websites that have communication outlets are disabled. The informants describe the network as almost useless, except for getting headline news and official government information websites.

People living under incarceration or with out a home occupies highly marginalized in Danish society. The interviewees articulated themselves as being positioned ”outside – looking in”. For them, participation in the digital society seemed like something they are excluded from. However, informants are still aware of activity, possibilities and importance of the digital society and they conduct their role in this in very different ways. Some are actively resisting digital participation and some are fighting to be included. For example, an inmate had been fighting for 5 years, to get access to “parent-intra” (a parent-teacher communication system in Danish schools), without sucess.

Further research in this area will be twofold. One part will look at how digital society plays into the experience of exclusion and the other part will look at how the secured PC network can play a more enabling role in sustaining digital literacy, inclusion and citizenship for the inmates in closed prisons.