School Internet use : case studies in the sociology of risk
This research uses observation, interviews and content analysis to examine the perceived and actual risks arising from Internet use in eight educational establishments. The majority of staff interviewed expressed concern about online pornography and the dangers of web based chat rooms. Additionally staff were anxious about the risks posed by hate engendering sites, websites encouraging experimentation, copyright infringement and threats to network security. In considering these school Internet risk narratives I make a distinction between concern that the student is "at risk" and that they are "dangerous”, posing a threat to the institution. I point out that in the primary schools staff talked about students solely as being "at risk", whereas in secondary schools this concern was tempered with the view that students misusing the school Internet also posed a danger to the institution. In the post-16 college Internet risks were almost solely expressed in terms of the "dangerous student". While only a sparse student risk narrative existed, with a few students anxious about on-line pornography, chat-lines and security there was non-verbal evidence indicating that students were worried about being punished for misusing the Internet. In assessing the "student- at-risk", I argue that exposure to pornography via the school Internet was not likely to pose an actual risk, while undesirable others in chat rooms, hateful websites and sites encouraging experimentation all posed actual, though statistically remote, risks. Considering the Internet activities of the "dangerous student", I found little evidence to suggest that the issues of school image, staff authority and copyright should be a source of great concern, although I note that school network security was an actual risk which deserves more attention. Finally, I consider institutional attempts to control Internet use and alleviate some of these perceived and actual risks through the use of rhetoric, exclusion and surveillance.