Sunday, June 22, 2014

SOCI 5260/6500: Text Analysis

Summer II 2014

M,T,W,Th, 12-1:50pm, Wooten Hal 116, July 7-August 8, 2014

Professor Gabe Ignatow

Although this course has a room assigned, it is online-only. We will communicate by email, supplemented by several in-person meetings.

Course description: Social media sites generate massive volumes of natural language data that are available for social science research, and social scientists have developed a number of new technologies for analyzing this data. Researchers are scaling up traditional research techniques to take advantage of new sources of textual data, as well as developing new methods along with new theoretical and metatheoretical frameworks and approaches to research ethics. This course provides a practical guide to contemporary text mining and analysis for the social sciences, covering both qualitative and quantitative text analytic research methods. Our focus in this course is mainly on sociological text analysis methods, including computer-assisted qualitative methods, semantic text analysis methods, and topic models.

1) Completion of weekly assignments (see below)
2) Completion of 10-page final paper

Final paper requirements: 

The final paper can be a proposal for a text mining and analysis project, a completed text mining and analysis project, or somewhere in between. For all final papers, students must collect their own data and explain and justify their sampling strategy. For CAQDAS projects, students must develop a coding scheme and apply it to a sub-sample of the larger text sample. For projects using more highly automated methods, students must review relevant text analysis methods and propose a strategy that can yield results relevant to the research question.

10 pages inclusive of full references, 12-pt font, double-spaced


Assignments: send by email to by 12pm Friday July 11
1) Propose one or more research questions that could be approached with text analysis methods
2) Identify 3 or more possible data sources, including newspaper archives, historical archives, social media platforms, websites, or research databases.

(15 points)


1. Text Mining

Text mining packages (free) (check YouTube for tutorials)


Free trials of CAQDAS packages (check YouTube for tutorials)

Assignments: send by email to by 12pm Friday July 18
1) Scrape or otherwise create a text sample of at least 5000 words. Describe the sample and how you collected it.
2) Write a 1-2-page memo describing possible coding schemes you will use on your data.

(15 points)

Franzosi 1987 From Words to Numbers
Franzosi 1998 Narrative Analysis

Assignments: send by email to by 12pm Friday July25
1) Write 1-2-page reviews of two of this week's articles
2) Write a 1-page update of your progress on your final paper

(10 points)


Bail 2012 The Fringe Effect

Assignments: send by email to by 12pm Friday Aug 1
1) Write 1-2-page reviews of two of this week's articles
2) Write a 1-page update of your progress on your final paper

(10 points)


August 4 Mohr and Bogdanov 2013 Topic Models--What They Are and Why They Matter
August 5-6 Mohr, Wagner-Pacifici, Breiger and Bogdanov Graphing the Grammar of Motives in National Security Strategy

Email presentations to and by 5pm August 7 (10 points)
Final paper due by email by 12pm Friday August 8 (40 points)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Internet and Society

Review Sheet
Final Exam

Hargittai, Gallo, and Kane
Clay Shirsky
Sobieraj and Berry
Ignatow and Williams

lowered barriers
organizational reinforcement
social movement coordination
Angela Hunt
Dallas Sierra Club
Dallas Citizens Council
Trinity Trust Foundation
Trinity Commons Foundation
Save the Trinity
The Eppstein Group

Arab Spring
Mohammed Bouazizi
“dictator’s dilemma”
“conservative dilemma”
civil society
international viral diffusion
international coordination
“Internet freedom”
instrumental approach
environmental view

media diversification
political fragmentation
social media fragmentation
political polarization
the blogosphere
“deliberative democracy”
traditional (legacy) news organizations
local monopolies or oligopolies
one-to-many “broadcast model”
“we write, you read” model
democratizaton of news production
user-generated news and opinion
challenge to newspaper business models from free online content
false information
false outrage
emotional manipulation
cable news
partisan news websites
network news
“echo chamber”
outrage and incivility

“anchor baby”
small low-threshold sites
medium-size medium-threshold sites

large high-threshold sites

Week 3 lecture notes

Week 3

Politics and Revolution



Major concepts:

lowered barriers

            new opportunities, tools for individuals and civil society groups and organizations
            for grass roots rather than elite groups

organizational reinforcement
            another type of digital divide

social movement coordination (e.g. Arab Spring, OWS, living wage movement)

“dictator’s dilemma”
“conservative dilemma”
            shared awareness
            intertwined economic interests and new media


civil society

international viral diffusion (e.g. Arab Spring)
international coordination

“Internet freedom”
            instrumental approach
            environmental view

political fragmentation
social media fragmentation (e.g. MySpace and FB)
political polarization
the blogosphere
“deliberative democracy”

The News

the internet and new media have radically transformed news media over the last 20 years

challenged traditional (legacy) news organizations’ business models
            based on local monopolies or oligopolies, limited competition
            one-to-many broadcast model
                        “we write, you read” model

democratizaton of news production

explosion of user-generated news and opinion

challenge to newspaper business models from free online content

as with the internet as a whole, early excitement has given way to concern about the quality of public deliberation, the authenticity of online news and news commentary

concerns about hyper-partisanship, incivility, false information, false outrage, and manipulation of readers’ emotions

television and print news outlets have responded to the new media landscape in several ways

one major trend is media differentiation

different media outlets cater to fragmented audiences who can be targeted by their ideological positions and lifestyles

more consumption of cable news (MSNBC, Fox News), blogs, partisan news websites

less consumption of network news

this is thought to have led to an “echo chamber” dynamic

and an increase in outrage and incivility
            Sobieraj and Berry coded several media sources in terms of:

insulting language, name calling, emotional display, emotional language, verbal fighting/sparring, character assassination, exaggeration, mockery/sarcasm, conflagration, ideologically extremizing language, slippery slope, belittling, use of obscene language

political pundits who make use of these techniques get high ratings and mega-salaries (in the tens of millions): Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, John Stewart, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck

Ignatow and Williams. 2011. New Media and the ‘Anchor Baby’ Boom.

In 2010 the term “anchor baby” came to be commonly used in US media

A racist and inflammatory term

Previously used only by small, extreme, anti-immigrant right-wing groups

How did it enter mainstream news? What is the back story? What is the role of new media in this phenomenon?

Was it due to mainstream news outlets?

Was it due to the blogosphere?

We did a bunch of web analytics and found that the anchor baby meme travelled from small low-threshold sites to medium-size medium-threshold sites and then on to large high-threshold sites.

Basically the trajectory of the AB meme shows how the organizational ecology of US news media has eliminated structural holes that once existed between fringe and mainstream news organizations. It is possible to track memes travelling across this organizational network, but also to track people travelling across it, for example who interviews whom or cites whose study or book on what website or television show.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Internet and Society
Review Sheet
Exam 2
Maymester 2014

great convergence
great divergence
winner-take-all economy
US education system
educational attainment gains
college premium
single parenthood
tax policy
decline of labor
corporate boards

digital literacy
the wired generation
informational habitus
serious play
‘a taste for the necessary’

PBS NewsHour YouTubevideo
Bill Moyers YouTube interview with Susan Crawford

Health information-seeking

White flight

“Digital Division”
“African-Americans and the Internet”
“Asian-American and the Internet”
“Hispanics and the Internet”

Internet and Society
Lecture Notes
Summer 2014
Lecture 1
Overview of the course, rationale
A. 150 years ago sociology was invented to help understand, explain and manage the social dimensions of the industrial revolution and urban modernity.
Today sociology and other disciplines are reinventing themselves to help us understand, explain and manage the information revolution.
The internet and information technology are revolutionary, disruptive, radical technologies.
1.5 billion people have internet access
Business, research, education, social life: all are now heavily reliant on the internet.
Information technology has evolved quickly, but of course social institutions and culture tend to evolve and adapt more slowly. For example friendship and dating, education, government; and people’s social roles, identities, and values.
B    A Brief History of the Internet
Cold War-era technology
US government-funded
  DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency)
Adopted by research and defense communities, then by business and the public
In the 1990s the Internet really started to take off
Its growth since then has been exponential
C. Some overarching themes in the reception of the internet since the 1990s
1. Utopias versus dystopias
a. utopias:
social equality
new types of relationships, greater cosmopolitanism
democratic participation
eliminating the most unpleasant, routine, boring aspects of work
telecommuting, less time wasted in travel
rural revival
more entertainment options for consumers, more diversity
economic growth
global interconnectivity, interdependence, and cooperation will increase
b. dystopias
information overload
brain reprogramming, shorter attention spans
"new class" / digital elites
digital divides
  by age, race, class, gender, nationality, region
  digital "black holes" (Manuel Castells)
2. The internet as disruptive or as reinforcing
a. The internet will disrupt and in some cases transform social relationships and institutions
The internet will create new opportunities for previously disadvantaged or marginalized social groups
The internet will empower the previously powerless and challenge those in power (Robin Hood)
b. Or, the internet will expose preexisting inequalities in terms of class, race, gender, and nationality
The internet will only deepen and reinforce inequalities that were always there
Groups who were once a little behind fall further behind, maybe hopelessly and permanently behind
Groups that were once disconnected from centers of power and influence become even more isolated
3. In this course we'll be more fine-grained than all of this. We'll look at specific cases and try to learn lessons from those
D. The Pew Research Center study from 2004, Internet: The Mainstreaming of Online Life
1. A 10-year-old study, but it makes some important points
Evidence of the rapid adoption of the Internet in the US
Gaps in use between groups by age, race, income and education level, also gender but this is less pronounced
Differences across groups in terms of how they use the internet, and for what reasons
news, blogs, government, health, professional associations and groups, socializing
E. Evgeny Morozov The Wrong Way to Discuss New Technologies
Russian technology writer, writes for and other media outlets
Skeptical about the claims of technologists, of Silicon Valley hype
Concerned about technological defeatism, the idea that technology should necessarily lead social change without people reflecting on technology and making it work to serve human purposes (rather than the reverse).
Gives the early-20th-century historical examples of
fears about camera technology versus noise abatement campaigns
Manuell Castells. The Network Society (lecture only)
network society (Castells 2000)

“information capitalism”

knowledge economy (Drucker 1992)

postindustrial society (Touraine 1971; Bell 1976)

information society (Webster 2002)

Fritz Machlup’s 1962 study “The production and distribution of knowledge in the United States”

American economist

Machlup introduced the concept of the “knowledge industry,”

argued that as early as the 1950s a large proportion of the Gross National Product of the United States was based in knowledge-intensive sectors


research and development

mass media

information technologies

information services.

Around the same time, management consultant and writer Peter Drucker was beginning to argue that modern societies were transitioning from economies based mainly on material goods to ones based mostly on knowledge (e.g. Drucker 1992 [1969]).

With computer technology came a new class of “symbolic analysts” (Bell 1973; Reich 1991) who were able to implement and take advantage of these technologies in many settings: within capitalist firms, and in government, education, and the home.

Daniel Bell

In his 1973 book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, Daniel Bell described the social patterns associated with an emerging form of capitalist society that was based economically on services rather than industrial production, in which “a majority of the labor force is no longer engaged in agriculture or manufacturing but in services, which are defined, residually, as trade, finance, transport, health, recreation, research, education, and government” (Bell 1976: 15).

Information capitalism evolved in a dramatic new way in the late 1990s as capitalist firms’ investments in information technology began to contribute to productivity increases on a grand scale (Jorgenson 2001).

information capitalism was no longer limited to an occupational caste of knowledge workers or to the high-tech sector.

information technology had infiltrated virtually all industries and government sectors.

Manuell Castells

The most prominent theorist of this recent developmental phase of information capitalism is Manuell Castells, who argues that information technology has led to a new “network logic” of social organization, the culmination of a historical trend in which major functions and processes of advanced nations are increasingly organized around networks.

Networks “constitute the new social morphology of our societies, and the diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operation and outcomes in processes of production, experience, power, and culture” (Castells 2000: 500).

Major consequences of the network society / postindustrial society / information capitalism:

[a] Economic growth. The transition from industrial to information capitalism is widely viewed as having contributed positively to economic growth through increases in the speed and efficiency of economic transactions, and by elevating worker productivity. Advances in semiconductor design and production led to a dramatic price decline of information technology in the mid-1990s, and this price decline, and the resulting incorporation of information technology into ever more sectors of the economy, is seen as a foundation for subsequent productivity gains and economic growth (Jorgenson 2001).

By the late 1990s, most of the world’s stock markets had converted to all-electronic trading formats; billions of dollars were being transacted across national borders instantaneously and electronically; and efficient communications technology, email in particular, had become commonplace for a large portion of the world’s population. The result was an acceleration of the productivity growth of both workers and of advanced industrial economies on the whole.

[a] Social inequality. Information capitalism is characterized by accelerating economic growth based on increases in worker productivity. It is also characterized by increasing socioeconomic inequality within and between nations, and by new patterns of inequality based on knowledge: the so-called “digital divide.” The information technology revolution has proven to be “skill-biased,” rewarding those with the education and cognitive skills who are best positioned to take advantage of technological change. Information capitalism has led to a sharp decline in the demand for less skilled workers in advanced industrialized nations, and to a concomitant weakening of unions and collective bargaining. By virtually all measures, income inequality in industrialized nations has risen sharply since the end of the era of industrial capitalism in the 1970s, resulting in a hollowing out of the middle classes of both advanced industrialized nations and developing nations (Parayil 2005: 45).

Rather than working in unionized factories, middle-class workers are increasingly resigned to service sector work that offers few benefits or opportunities for advancement.

At the firm level, information capitalism rewards knowledge-intensive companies that specialize in computers, information, communication, and technology. These “increasing returns firms” (Parayil 2005) specialize in products with high initial production costs. But after investing in the development of knowledge-intensive products such as operating systems, computer hardware, or patented drugs, the manufacturing costs are relatively negligible, and firms may bring in revenue for years based on their copyright-protected intellectual property.

Partly because of the high up-front costs of producing knowledge-intensive products, and the winner-take-all nature of competition in information capitalism, developing countries appear to have little chance to compete on the world stage. The globe is increasingly divided between technology haves, who reap the benefits of technological development and economic growth, and have-nots who are technologically backward and excluded, unable to either innovate or adopt and adapt new technologies (Castells 2000; Sachs 2001).

[a] Migration and cities.

Information capitalism has increased demand for knowledge workers

Led to “brain drain” of educated workers from developing countries to developed countries where they can make far higher salaries than in their home countries, and stay up to date in terms of cutting-edge research and technological development.

The geographies of metropolitan areas in advanced industrial nations show the effects of skilled migration. There is in “global cities” such as New York, London, and Hong Kong

a new geography of centrality and marginality (Sassen 2001), in which skilled international knowledge workers cluster in gentrified neighborhoods in city centers, raising prices in central areas and pushing working-class residents out to peripheral areas.

[a] The domestic sphere. While information technology has spurred increases in worker productivity, some of this productivity growth is likely due to changing social patterns that have attended the transition to information capitalism. With the wide availability of internet connectivity, portable computers, and email, knowledge workers are able to work at home more easily.

They may “telecommute,” working from home almost exclusively

more often, workers bring work home with them, sacrificing hours that might otherwise be spent with family and friends (e.g. Putnam 2001).

[a]Political dimensions.

Castells has focused on a transition in advanced capitalist countries from “party politics” to “informational politics” in which traditional political parties’ monopoly over political organization and citizens’ political identities has dissolved.

Many countries have harnessed information technology in E-government strategies that attempt to make government services more accessible to citizens, or at least to citizens who have internet access. At a global level, information capitalism has been embraced by the United Nations system (Leye 2007), which encourages developing countries to participate in the global information economy.

An alternative approach to the  mostly neoliberal model adopted by the UN has been for some developing countries to invest in “informational welfare states” (Castells and Himanen 2002) in which governments make strategic investments in the educational system and in public institutions that make Internet access and other information services available to the public, generally free of charge.

Information Overload


sensory overload (Beaudoin 2008; Berghel 1997) and media addiction (Byun et al. 2009;Young 1998),
The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.
“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”
“Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone’s brain thinking,” said Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford. “But we’ve got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.”
Mr. Nass says the Stanford studies are important because they show multitasking’s lingering effects: “The scary part for guys like Kord is, they can’t shut off their multitasking tendencies when they’re not multitasking.”
Melina Uncapher, a neurobiologist on the Stanford team, said she and other researchers were unsure whether the muddied multitaskers were simply prone to distraction and would have had trouble focusing in any era. But she added that the idea that information overload causes distraction was supported by more and more research.
A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that people interrupted by e-mail reported significantly increased stress compared with those left to focus. Stress hormones have been shown to reduce short-term memory, said Gary Small, a psychiatrist at theUniversity of California, Los Angeles.
Preliminary research shows some people can more easily juggle multiple information streams. These “supertaskers” represent less than 3 percent of the population, according to scientists at the University of Utah.
Other research shows computer use has neurological advantages. In imaging studies, Dr. Small observed that Internet users showed greater brain activity than nonusers, suggesting they were growing their neural circuitry.
a weakening of social and communication skills (Bauerlein 2008; Richtel 2010),
“The Dumbest Generation” (Mark Bauerlein, 2008, English professor)
IT ->
less reading,
less in-depth reading,
worse grammar
worse spelling
more superficial pop culture, less knowledge of history and high culture
more self-absorption
shorter attention spans,
more peer-to-peer rather than peer-mentor social interaction and modeling
loss of the capacity for sustained concentration (Carr 2008)
Morozov, Evgeny. Is Smart Making Us Dumb?
C. Identity, Relationships, and Lifestyles

We have some idea about what the internet may be doing to our brains and our psychology. But what does it do to our relationships and our social identities, our sense of who we are as people? And to our lifestyles? How we live on a daily basis.
We have theories from Castells, Bell, Touraine and others. But what is happening in the field?
Identities, relationships and lifestyles are phenomena studied by sociologists and anthropologists, who use methods such as:
historical research
Most of the studies we will read in the rest of this course use these methods to study how people, families, communities and organizations adapt to the information age.
Many of these studies draw on the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who was one of the first sociologists to theorize how domestic cultural practices contribute to the reproduction of social inequality

Working-class background

Main ideas:
Forms of capital (social, economic, cultural)
Social Space or Field
Habitus: bodily and cognitive imprint of social position
Why workers don’t like to eat fish (removing bones too dainty) or work on keyboards
Categories of refined/unrefined versus masculine/feminine
Symbolic Violence, Symbolic Domination
Music has many roles in social life, creating solidarities and encouraging political resistance.
People engage with music in many different ways in different areas of life.
Music becomes part of people’s identities, the way they identify themselves and draw closer to or else distance themselves from other
groups and individuals.
While social exclusion is a well-understood sociological phenomenon, “symbolic exclusion” is the topic of Bryson’s paper. Symbolic
exclusion is, in a word, taste.
Symbolic exclusion is a form of Lamont’s boundary work, the work of drawing lines between ourselves and others so as to establish our
place in the social world.
Bryson examines musical exclusion and musical tolerance
From Bourdieu, we expect that elites will behave in a snobbish manner regarding music and musical tastes, excluding, or discriminating
against, certain types of lowbrow music
Yet the opposite seems to be true: highly educated people are more musically tolerant than are people with less education, that is they
are more open to more different kinds of music
Yet she finds that educated people are more tolerant generally but also very intolerant to low-status music, or music associated with
uneducated people, such as country or gospel music in the United States
She calls this patterned tolerance
She refers to multicultural capital
When we read Bourdieu, we may sense that he’s not entirely right when it comes to the contemporary scene. Do ambitious people really sip wine, go to museums, etc to lift their status and distinguish themselves from others?
Isn’t that all a bit too Parisian, and too old?
Peterson and Kern discuss why this “snob model” is right for certain locations and certain historical periods, such as the late
century in the United States.
Anglo-Saxons wanted to distinguish themselves from recent immigrants from Italy, Russia, Ireland, Poland, Greece
and so on. They wanted to distinguish their “highbrow” culture from immigrants’ “lowbrow” culture.
Sociologists interested in the arts, media, taste, status, high culture and so forth sometimes refer to Bourdieu’s approach as the
“snob model”
But the snob model does not seem to capture the tastes and interests of elites in America today. Highly educated American
elites today are likely to be involved in a wide range of low-status activities.
Rich white suburban teenagers listen to rap music. College students listen to world music, Latin music, Afro-Caribbean, rap,
popular music.
P&K discuss highbrows, snobs, and omnivores.
Highbrows – like elite culture – classical music and opera
Snobs – highbrows who do not participate in lowbrow (cultures of poor marginal groups, such as blacks, youth, isolated rural
people) or middlebrow (commercial, mass cultural) activities
– a perfect snob refuses to engage in any lowbrow or middlebrow activities
these are very rare in the USA – a study in Detroit in the 1960s of 1,400 people did not find one perfect snob
you could probably find a few in New York City, certainly in Paris
Omnivores – enjoy a wide range of lowbrow and middlebrow cultural activities
Remember Bethany Bryson’s article on Musical Dislikes -- patterned tolerance and multicultural capital
P&K find that “omnivorousness is replacing snobbishness”
Omnivores do not like everything, but they are open to appreciating everything
In a way it is opposed to snobbishness, which is based on rigid rules of exclusion
Discriminating omnivorousness replacing snobbishness reflects multiculturalism and relativism in society over ethnocentrism
Omnivores appreciate music differently than other people. They do not identify with it.
Why the shift from snobbishness and to omnivorousness
devaluation of snobbishness because of widespread availability of highbrow culture in the media
rising education levels
geographic migration and social class mobility have mixed people holding different tastes
mass media presents lots of cultural materials to many people
value change from group prejudice, supported by racist social science, to tolerance and diversity
art world change from 19th
there were absolute standards of beauty and vulgarity
This consensus was swept away by market forces and aesthetic entrepreneurs in the 20th
(impressionists, Picasso, expressionists, minimalists, postmodernists)
Obviously the value of art was a product of its social circumstances, not of the art itself
generational politics Youth culture has become a viable alternative to “adult” culture
globalization and new elites for whom inclusion and omnivorous is probably a more useful way to create distinction
than exclusion and snobbishness
century European scene, where theorists in the European Royal Academies believed that
This study asks how digital technology has changed how people find music.
This is an important topic because:
a healthy music industry requires that consumers seek out new forms of music
psychological benefits of seeking out new music
knowledge of new music is social currency
liking the right kind of culture confers social distinction (Bourdieu)
People may learn about new music from:
1. social networks
2. mass media
3. digital media

Does digital media democratize the discovery of new music? Does it democratize the capacity for people to become innovators and opinion leaders?

They can’t

Are there status differences between digital technology users and non-users within elite universities?

T and H surveyed elite students at 3 elite private universities
paper-pencil questionnaire in 2003-5 to students in sociology and communication courses

DV: list of ways students found new music

IVs: Musical habits, genres, omnivores, hours, numbers of artists, are they mavens?, time spent online, demographics, SES


music is important in students’ lives

didn’t find many differences across groups
Omnivores relied more on social networks than did other users

Students with parents with graduate degrees used peer-to-peer file sharing, and were less likely to browse online


Traditional methods of learning about new music (networks and mass media) are still important

People use new technology to reinforce existing habits

No evidence that technology has transformed how people learn about new music or musical tastes

Focus group interviews with high school students from agricultural California

How do families negotiate ICT use in the home?

Highly wired families

Partially wired families

Unwired families
Are there different social contracts within these families?

Do families use ICTs for different purposes? For concerted cultivation of children versus recreation?

Do individuals from different family types have a different “information habitus” whereby they view ICT use differently?


Highly wired families: ICT use is tied to ‘good’ behavior (chores, etiquette, not fighting)

‘rights and responsibilities’ model

Partially wired families: resource sharing, turn-taking

capital-enhancing activities get more priority (e.g. schoolwork)

Unwired families:

No access to internet, smart phones

Kids have to go to school to use the internet

Families negotiate giving rides to kids to use the internet

Only dedicate resources for ICT use that is capital-enhancing, such as schoolwork and college application work


This week we’ll discuss inequality and stratification, which have always been central topics for sociology.

The information revolution has had huge impacts on inequality at every level: global, national, regional, urban, and at the community level.

Conceptualizing these impacts is not straightforward. Academic research tends to investigate inequality one part at a time. The Slate series on inequality is useful because it synthesizes a great deal of academic research from multiple disciplines.

The historical pattern of socioeconomic inequality in the US resembles many other countries, although the US case is more extreme.

The three decades after WWII saw incomes grow at an almost uniform 3 percent annual rate for families up and down the income ladder. This period is known as the “great compression.”

Since the early 1970s, however, virtually all income gains have accrued to those whose incomes were highest to begin with. This period has been called the “great divergence.”

During the period of the digital revolution, most of the income and wealth gains have gone to the top 20 percent of earners, but the lion’s share of the gains within that group have gone to the top 5 percent. And within the top 5 percent, most of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, and so on.

1. Why?

Winner-take-all economy (Robert Frank): technological forces that greatly amplify small increments in performance and increased competition for the services of top performers.

Unlike in earlier technological revolutions, this time the US education system has not been able to produce enough skilled graduates. Those with valuable skills have seen their incomes rise.

There has been a dramatic slowdown in educational attainment gains during the digital revolution.

Economists Goldin and Katz calculate that the “college premium” accounts for two-thirds of the increase in income inequality during the Great Divergence in the United States.

Daniel Bell and Alain Touraine may have been right.

Timothy Noah’s overview comes to the following conclusions about the Great Divergence.

  • Race and gender are responsible for none of it, and single parenthood is responsible for virtually none of it.
  • Immigration is responsible for 5 percent.
  • The imagined uniqueness of computers as a transformative technology is responsible for none of it.
  • Tax policy is responsible for 5 percent.
  • The decline of labor is responsible for 20 percent.
  • Trade is responsible for 10 percent.
  • Wall Street and corporate boards are responsible for 30 percent.
  • Various failures in our education system are responsible for 30 percent.

2. What role have ICTs played in increasing inequality?

Example from music:

The market for classical music has never been larger than it is now, yet the number of full-time soloists on any given instrument is on the order of only a few hundred (and much smaller for instruments other than voice, violin, and piano). Performers of the first rank comprise a limited handful out of these small totals and have very large incomes. There are also known to be substantial differences between [their incomes and the incomes of] those in the second rank, even though most consumers would have difficulty detecting more than minor differences in a “blind” hearing.
The enormous leverage of the most talented musicians was made possible by the development of breathtakingly lifelike recording and playback technologies. Now that most music we listen to is prerecorded, the world’s best soprano can be literally everywhere at once.

Frank also gives the example of university presidents. Small differences in abilities translate to huge differences in performance and pay.

Fueled by increasing mobility.

3. Does it matter?

The top 1% have raised the bar for everyone else.

Higher tuition costs, bigger houses, newer cars have become the norm.

Keeping up with the Joneses: he median new house built in the United States in 2007 had more than 2,300 square feet, almost 50 percent more than its counterpart in 1980.

More debt, more economic fragility within families.

Internationally, this leads to financial outflows from developing to developed countries as economic elites in developing countries consume luxury items and services produced in developed countries.

Digital literacy


We hear a lot about the ‘wired generation,’ but much less about differences in internet skills (digital literacy) within age cohorts. It turns out those differences are vast. People of different socioeconomic backgrounds not only have different levels of internet access, but they use the internet for different things, have different social support networks, and have systematically different levels of proficiency. For example, they have different levels of skill when it comes to search, and different levels of knowledge about web sites and social media platforms.
A Bourdieuian Approach to Digital Inequality

Robinson performs a sophisticated multi-method analysis of the information habitus of low-income teenagers in agricultural California.

She’s critical of the widespread assumption that youths are highly wired as a generation

She’s also critical of how survey research response categories efface critical social distinctions

Major ideas from Bourdieu:

informational habitus: experiences, attitudes, skills

Mediates between access to resources and skill development, through feedback loops

skhole (serious play) versus a ‘taste for the necessary’

Health Information Seeking in the Digital Age

Health and medicine were one of the first areas to be disrupted by Internet technology.

The Internet has modified doctor-patient and nurse-patient relationships, empowering patients with new sources of information. Of course that information is differentially available and accessible to patients based on socioeconomic factors.

Researchers have found that communication inequalities contribute to health inequalities. People with better access to information recognize and seek treatment for medical problems earlier than do people with less access and lower levels of information literacy.

Differential use of WebMD and other health information sites, and of doctor ratings sites.

Patients of high SES have access to support groups, physicians, and the Internet, whereas women of low SES do not discuss their health problems with their peers, and lack access to and distrust physicians.

1000s of studies have been done in this area.

From a sociological perspective results of this research aren’t terribly surprising. But it makes the point that the digital divide has real-life consequence in the areas of health and illness.

The MySpace White Flight

In the early 2000s there was a dramatic segregation of social media platforms, between MySpace (African-American, lower income) and Facebook (whiter, more affluent).

Intersection of taste and aesthetics with race and class.

MySpace caught on in the early 2000s with urban teens, through musical subcultures, late-night culture, 20-30-somethings emulated by teens.

Based in Los Angeles.

Acquired by News Corporation in 2005.

Content appeared dangerous to parents.
FB launched from Harvard, then spread to all Ivy League schools, all top-tier colleges, then to a wider array of colleges.

FB appeared elite and highbrow.

Early on FB membership was coveted by high school students.

Teen self-sorting began when FB opened access to all in September 2006.

“Digital white flight” driven by class- and race-based aesthetic preferences and network effects.

MySpace a “digital ghetto”?

Another example of ICTs reinforcing preexisting social patterns?