Thinking Relationally About Digital Inequality in Rural America
This article reconsiders the concept of digital inequality drawing from recent developments in science and technology studies, including evolving theories of materiality (Barad, 2003; Bennett, 2010; Ingold, 2012), work on critical media infrastructures (Parks and Starosielski, 2015), and on maintenance and repair (Jackson, 2014; Edgerton, 2007). New ways of thinking about the material world move away from an examination of the cultural significance of ‘objects’ to consider the relationality, vibrancy, and continual “becoming” of materials that we live amidst and interact through. These innovative theoretical developments offer new ways of framing present-day problems and consequences of disparate connectivity by drawing attention to connecting infrastructures instead of the end points of access. I draw from ethnographic fieldwork on Internet access and use in a rural and remote part of northern California to show how the uneven and patchy deployment of the Internet and its physical infrastructures across space shapes rural experiences of the Internet.