Conceptualising the digital divide

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The term “digital divide” emerged in the 1990s to define inequalities in access to the Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), framing it as a matter of having or not having access to ICTs (Compaine 2001). The firsts empirical researches have shown how some specific socio-demographic variables, such as employment status, income, education level, geographic location, ethnicity, age, gender and family structure, influenced the access to the ICTs, creating a digital gap or divide among citizens (domestic digital divide) or countries (global digital divide). Such inequalities have widened during the years, despite the fact that the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Geneva (2003) and then in Tunis (2005) has stressed the idea that no one should be left out from the benefits offered by the information society. The importance of the Internet as a pre-requisite for economic and social development, has been further stressed by the United Nations in 2015 when the Internet has been included among its goals for resolving the most persistent social and economic challenges of our time (UN, 2015: 15). Indeed, in a digital enabled society, part of the human activities depends on how we access, generate and process information. It is then worth asking how the phenomenon of digital divide and digital inequalities has been approached and analysed by both scholars and policy makers and how such approach has changed over the years. Hence, the aim of this chapter is to discuss the change of perspectives in analysing and attempting to bridge the digital divide, and reconceptualise this concept by offering a nuanced theoretical approach to analyses the rise and persistence of digital inequalities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMapping the Digital Divide in Africa
Subtitle of host publicationA Mediated Analysis
EditorsBruce Mutsvairo, Massimo Ragnedda
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789048538225
ISBN (Print)9789462986855
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2019


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