In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Digital Divide

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies and Edited Works

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Communication Digital Divide
Peter A. Chow-White, Betty Ackah, Philippa Adams
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0210


This article explores the different treatments and conceptualizations of the digital divide. In the broadest sense, a digital divide encapsulates the inequality that exists between individuals, social groups, nations, etc., in terms of access to and use and impact of the digital infrastructure, knowledge, and skills that constitute the digital age. Scholars discuss the multidirectional trajectory the term “digital divide” has traveled and the various approaches that different authors have in defining and applying it. The fast pace of technological advancement also influences the rapid evolution of theorizing the term, with focus shifting from technology to technology and particular ecological and social changes. Some scholars argue the divide increases with each new technological innovation. Inequalities in access to and use of digital technologies are further exacerbated by the exclusion of disadvantaged persons and societies from knowledge production and content creation activities in the digital sphere. The divide therefore is manifest in the existence of knowledge monopolies, where regulations, skill sets, standards, and innovations are monopolized according to hegemonic structures. Thus, few pockets of society actively participate in meaningful interaction with ICTs in a manner that generates and directs discourse/rhetoric in the communication technologies mediated public sphere. The determinants of the digital divide largely mirror the elements of social and economic inequalities. They include income, infrastructure, education, geography, race, ethnicity, and gender. These different aspects are manifest in varying degrees depending on the context.

Anthologies and Edited Works

These texts present a contemporary and diverse view of new media technology and cyberculture. The approaches are predominantly critical in a manner that delves beneath dominant perspectives to unearth marginalized lived experiences. Nayar 2010 provides introductory and comprehensive writings about the relationship between new media and cybercultures anthology. This book sets out a critical examination of cyberculture through the prism of sex, race, and gender. Leigh 2011 describes an international view of factors that give rise to the digital divide, while discussing the opportunities that an equitable information society could present. Ferro, et al. 2010 zooms into discussions exploring the constituents and ramifications of the digital divide, arguing that understanding is important to establishing the conditions that are necessary to actualize digital equity in a sustainable manner. Ferro, et al. 2010 also showcases a wide range of contributions that cover such issues as the interplay between gender, education, regional differences, and ethnicity in digital divides. Afrofuturism directly addresses questions on race and ethnicity in the cyberworld and examines various ways in which cultural outputs, perceptions, and experiences of race interact with digital media technology. Nakamura and Chow-White (2012) is a collection of interdisciplinary and progressive essays on the social shaping of digital media technologies and race. The authors set a new agenda for the digital divide scholarship by arguing that we need to broaden the conversation from infrastructure access to quality of connection and the new role of data and code.

  • Ferro, E., Y. K. Dwivedi, R. J. Gil-Garcia, and M. D. Williams, eds. 2010. Handbook of research on overcoming digital divides: Constructing an equitable and competitive information society. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

    This handbook emphasizes the need for prioritizing an information society where the various social groups enjoy equitable access to information and knowledge. Social participation in knowledge creation on an individual, social, and national level—toward making international impacts in the competitive knowledge-economy—is integral. Contributors explore the multiple theories on digital divides, and, among other things, situate their complexity within various contexts to unearth the nuances to the phenomenon.

  • Leigh, P. R., ed. 2011. International exploration of technology equity and the digital divide: Critical, historical and social perspectives. New York: Information Science Reference.

    This work has a principal objective of using lessons from past experiences to shape measures toward eradicating instances of digital inequalities. Leigh presents a comprehensive volume that draws on global contexts to give a critical exploration into the historical, social, political, and economic determinants that have occasioned (and continue to engender) the digital divide.

  • Nayar, P. K., ed. 2010. The new media and cybercultures anthology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Nayar’s text is widely recommended for undergraduate media courses. However, it is also germane for the researcher or scholar interested in investigating the intricacies and manifestations of cyberculture through the prism of gender, race, sexuality, among others. With its focus on new media, this text suffers the inevitable phenomenon of presenting contemporary examples that are already “archaic” due to the rapid changes in new media innovations.

  • Nelson, Alondra. 2002. Special Issue: Afrofuturism. Social Text 71.

    Afrofuturism purposefully stamps African American realities onto the practices and experiences of digital technologies. The essays included in this special issue probe the subjective positionality of the African American as an individual, and African American cultural production as mediated through digital technoculture.

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