E-inclusion or digital divide: an integrated model of digital inequality

Publication Date14 May 2018
AuthorBiyang Yu,Ana Ndumu,Lorri M. Mon,Zhenjia Fan
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
E-inclusion or digital divide:
an integrated model of
digital inequality
Biyang Yu, Ana Ndumu and Lorri M. Mon
School of Information, College of Communication and Information,
Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA, and
Zhenjia Fan
Department of Information Resource Management,
Nankai University, Tianjin, China
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to improve understanding of the societal problem of the
deepening digital divide by establishing and testing an integrated conceptual framework for digital
divide research.
Design/methodology/approach The authors established the integrated conceptual framework after
synthesizing the literature, and then tested the framework by conducting a secondary analysis of a 2014-2015
data set comprised of 398 survey responses and nine interviews with Chinese migrant workers.
Findings The results showed that Chinese migrant workers were partially e-included in the digital society.
However, they encountered material, cognitive, motivational, and social access limitations due to the lack of
financial, material, educational, psychological, interpersonal, and cognitive resources, which caused them to
experience a digital divide. Findings support the use of the integrative model as a potential analytical
framework to understand and address digital inequalities.
Originality/value This study first proposed an integrative framework to understand the measurements
and causes of the digital divide and then empirically tested its feasibility.
Keywords Force, Access, Resource, Digital divide, Chinese migrant worker, E-acceptance, E-inclusion
Paper type Research paper
The rapid development of information and communication technologies (ICT) has resulted
in profound global political, economic, and social transformations. Many regions worldwide
have experienced tremendous mobilization in ICT investment and infrastructure. However,
contrary to expectations of an eradication of the digital divide, this dynamic problem
continues to deepen with the advent of new technologies (Mubarak, 2015). To dissect and
diagnose the complexities of the digital divide, a more thorough understanding of the
problem is needed.
Scholars have tackled the conceptualizations, measurements, and causes of the digital
divide in domains including library and information science, communications, policy,
economics, and education (Chinn and Fairlie, 2007; Hohlfeld et al.,2008),resultingin
disparate approaches to a single phenomenon (Helbig et al., 2009). Each field is guided by
distinct traditions, ideologies, and epistemic value systems which impact digital divide
inquiries. As Yu (2011) noted, these discordant research traditions manifest in differing
choices of research objects (social facets or forces vs individual actions or propensities),
primary determinants (social structure vs individual agency), and interpretations of
stimuli (observable or objective measurements vs internal or subjective entities).
Consequently, the digital divide literature presents divergent research questions,
definitional approaches, and prescriptions.
In response to calls for integrative theories and applicable measures (van Dijk, 2006),
this study seeks to continue our work to deconstruct the dynamics, measurements and
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 74 No. 3, 2018
pp. 552-574
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-10-2017-0148
Received 17 October 2017
Revised 3 January 2018
Accepted 3 January 2018
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
causes of the digital divide by developing a synthesized conceptual framework based on
previous literature (Yu et al., 2016, 2018). There is the potential to contribute to knowledge of
the digital divide through a congruence of perspectives. This study explains an integrative
framework for digital divide research and analyses it using existing research data on
Chinese migrant workersICT experiences.
Digital divide conceptualizations and measurements
To determine the conceptualizations and measurements necessaryfor deriving an integrated
model for digitalinequality, a review of the digital divide literature wasconducted. The term
digital divide was popularized in the mid-1990s by Larry Irving, former head of National
Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration (Irving et al., 1999).Initially drawing from
the technological deterministic view where access to devices or technology is the primary
driver of the societalchanges while human or social factorswere seen as the secondary causes
(Srinuan and Bohlin, 2011), early empirical studies conceptualized the digital divide as a
binary physical access disparity between those who either haveor have notin terms of
ownership or physical access to the internet, digital devices, broadband, andother computing
technology (Hartviksen et al., 2002).
This simplified, binary interpretation of the digital divide was criticized by later
researchers as reductionist in nature (Bertot, 2003; Vehovar et al., 2006). Additional
limitations include lack of ICT literacy and skills (Hargittai, 2002; Warschauer, 2002) and
psychological or motivational reluctance (Dijk and Hacker, 2003; DiMaggio et al., 2001).
van Dijk (2005) summarized that these disparities point to limitations of material access,
skills access, and motivational access.
ICT usage or adoption constitutes another measurement focusing on behavioral
differences in incorporating technology (Barzilai-Nahon, 2006; Billon et al., 2009). Some
organizations combined various metrics for both access and ICT usage (Bélanger and
Carter, 2009; Vehovar et al., 2006). The International Telecommunication UnionsICT
Development Index a merger of the Digital Access Index and the ICT Opportunity
Index measures physical access, skill access, and ICT use through eleven indicators
(Measuring the Information Society, 2012). However, problems of fragmented constructs
that fail to account for all the manifestations of accesses have resulted in partial coverage
within international indexes, although most conceptualizations see access as the
prerequisite for ICT adoption (Barzilai-Nahon, 2006; Helbig et al., 2009).
Some scholars define the nature of the digital divide problem as pertaining to
participation inequality in a digital society (Clement and Shade, 1999; Helsper et al., 2008;
Warschauer, 2004). Borrowed from Warschauers (2004) theory of social inclusion, the
concept of e-inclusion was proposed by the eEurope Advisory Group (2005) to clarify
digital participation inequality, with social inclusion referring to the extent that
individuals, families, and communities are able to fully participate in society and control
their own destinies, taking into account a variety of factors related to economic
resources, employment, health, education, housing, recreation,culture,andcivic
engagement(p. 7) and e-inclusion being the effective participation of individuals and
communities in all dimensions of the knowledge-based society and economy through
their access to ICT(p. 7). Hence, e-inclusion and digital divide are seen here as parallel
concepts which represent the desired and actual situations concerning digital
participation. When the digital divide is rectified, e-inclusion is attained; but as long as
people are excluded from participation at any level (e.g. political, social, economic),
inequality persists.
Technology regeneration is another substrate of digital divide scholarship which
recognizes that technologies evolve at breakneck speeds, further aggravating efforts to
alleviate inequality (Barzilai-Nahon, 2006; van Dijk, 2005), as end-users do not adopt
E-inclusion or
digital divide

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