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Bringing lost sheep into the fold: questioning the discourse of the digital divide

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Abstract: Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to critique the discourse of the digital divide and to propose ways of responding to digital inequalities. Design/methodology/approach – Illustrations of arguments are based on reviews of academic literature, projects reports, policy documents and research findings from the Penceil project, and are informed by critical theory. The research consisted of 47 semi-structured interviews and action research involving designing an e-literacy curriculum and running a course based on it. Findings – A discourse of missed opportunities and “being left behind”, present in policy statements and popular media, leads to objectifying non-users of information and communication technologies (ICT) as “others”. This discourse is often internalised by non-users, but it does not necessarily lead to positive actions, leaving some feeling inadequate. So far initiatives seeking to address the digital divide have had moderate success. To respond to digital exclusion we need to oppose the unchecked spread of e-services, and help non-users of ICT to become users or (if they choose to) informed “refusniks”. Initiatives aiming to facilitate people's sustainable and meaningful use of ICT ought to draw on individual and community resources. A curriculum should be determined by learners' experiences and their expressions of needs, and go beyond IT skills. Research limitations/implications – The paper does not offer a comprehensive review of digital exclusion, concentrating instead on chosen problems and arguments. It is based on the UK experience, and thus more relevant to developed rather than developing countries. Practical implications – The paper raises awareness of different issues related to digital exclusion and ways of addressing them. Originality/value – The paper calls to question current discourse and initiatives addressing the digital divide, highlighting their limitations. It presents alternative ways of responding to digital exclusion.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/24167/

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