Digital inclusion for social inclusion. Welfare and wellbeing of vulnerable youth in the digital city: implementation and policy?
Brussels, as many other metropolises, is characterized by a significant percentage of young people living at the margins of today’s knowledge society. Evidence shows that the existence of a digital generation is a myth, for instance the assumption that all young people have grown up with ICT and have appropriated these technologies effortlessly. Many young people, and in particular those from a disadvantaged background, are digitally excluded or are at-risk of being digitally excluded. They are confronted with barriers such as limited access, a lack of digital skills, a lack of usage opportunities or encouragement to use ICT and few to no social support networks that incite the use of digital media. Hence, young people from a disadvantaged background lack the ability to use digital media as a tool to improve their social position (finding work or participating in online courses). Little research exists on the causal relationship between youth-at-risk and their social and digital exclusion, especially in terms of young people from minority groups living in Brussels. It remains unclear how vulnerable young people are confronted with mechanisms of digital exclusion, and how this can and should be situated in an urban context. Bourdieu’s social capital theory enables us to gain insight into structural causes of digital inequalities (cf. reproduction social). Referring to the interaction between social networks, social resources and reciprocity trust relations he points out the social complexity of urbanization. Following Gilbert digital multispeed urbanism dynamics characterize cities. The integration of technologies into everyday practices and its adoption rate are district related and differ and within neighborhood residents. Social inequalities in urban areas are strengthened by digital inequality, and vice versa. This research project focuses on three main goals. Firstly, this study aims to map the characteristics of digital exclusion amongst vulnerable young people in an urban context based on both a theoretical exploration and an empirical analysis in collaboration with vulnerable young people themselves. Secondly, this research aims to identify indicators of digital in- and exclusion specific to an urban context. Thirdly, this research includes a survey and a critical analysis of the initiatives in the Brussels Capital Region working on digital inclusion. It examines how these initiatives proceed to support vulnerable target groups and enhance their participation in informal and formal education and training. Furthermore, the role of volunteering as well as digital inclusion policy and policy competencies in the Brussels Capital Region will be investigated.