The Role of Symbolic Capital in Digital Inequality: Lessons from The Student Room's Reputation System

Herzig, Richenda (2017) The Role of Symbolic Capital in Digital Inequality: Lessons from The Student Room's Reputation System. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

[thumbnail of PhD_Thesis_Corrected_-_Richenda_Herzig.pdf]
Download (4MB) | Preview


This thesis examines the role that digital reputation plays in inequalities on the popular forum: The Student Room. Reputation systems (sometimes described as rating systems) are conventionally theorised as mechanisms for the facilitation of trust and cooperation online. This study illustrates, to the contrary, that digital reputation is implicated in a range of additional social practices and goals, such as the pursuit of status and the exercising of power. The recognition theory of Axel Honneth, and Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital are used to propose a basis for reconceptualising digital reputation. It is argued that the full impact and significance of digital reputation cannot be understood without the use of qualitative, exploratory methods, without which it is impossible to identify the contextual goals and strategies that shape and stratify digital practice. This context defines the appropriation of digital reputation, and its meaning and impact. It is also argued that digital inequality literature stands to benefit from traditional sociological insights into the nature of inequality. To illustrate this stance, Bourdieu's apparatus is incorporated into the research design, which consists in participant observation of four forums (Chat, Fitness, Universities and Religion) alongside qualitative interviews. Research identifies the interests that drive users in their practice in The Student Room, and different forms of capital that they deploy in order to attain their goals. It also explores their perceptions and experiences of the reputation system, illustrating how reputation serves as a form of symbolic capital in the various struggles and pursuits of users across the site. These findings offer an important contribution both to the fields of digital inequality, and digital reputation by providing a finely grained exposition of the mechanisms of power in online spaces, and its role in conditioning both digital reputation and inequality.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
Depositing User: Bruce Beckett
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2018 09:39
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2018 09:39


Downloads per month over past year

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item